College students are moving away from home for the first time to college campuses across the nation and many will put themselves at high risk of contracting hepatitis B, according to a new survey conducted for the Society for Adolescent Medicine (SAM).
About 56 percent of the college students surveyed who live away from home said they are sexually active while at college. Of these, 73 percent reported having unprotected sex, increasing the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, including hepatitis B.
Although 92 percent of the students surveyed had heard of hepatitis B, 52 percent either were not protected through vaccination or did not know if they were protected.
"Hepatitis B is one of the only sexually-transmitted diseases that is vaccine-preventable," said Dr. James Farrow, of SAM. "Parents may not have as much control over their child's life once they leave home, but they can protect them through vaccination before the school semester begins." He said many teens born before 1991 when vaccinations for hepatitis B became routine may not be protected.
To educate the nearly four million teenagers that will head off to college this fall and their parents, SAM is launching a national media awareness campaign, which includes distribution of a free college health booklet highlighting the importance of preventing infectious diseases through vaccination.
According to SAM, hepatitis B can also be spread through body piercings, tattooing, sharing a razor or toothbrush and contact sports.
Four in 10 college students either have a tattoo or body piercing or are likely to get one before they graduate. In addition, one-third admitted to sharing either a razor or toothbrush with a roommate, partner or friend, also putting them at risk for contracting the disease.
Harris Interactive conducted the on-line survey between April 24, 2003 and May 8, 2003 among 516 full-time college students at four-year institutions, living away from home, aged 18 to 22 years. The survey was funded by a grant from GlaxoSmithKline.
Other sources: Society for Adolescent Medicine