Hepatitis B Vaccine

Parenting in the Early Years

Hepatitis B Vaccine

The Center for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that vaccination against Hepatitis B begin in the newborn period. This vaccination is part of a series that protects your baby from becoming infected with Hepatitis B and reduces the incidence of this infection in the community.

What is Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a virus that causes inflammation of the liver. Chronic infections with Hepatitis B virus (HBV) may lead to chronic liver disease as well as cancer. Symptoms of Hepatitis B include fatigue, mild fever, muscle and joint aches, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, vague abdominal pain, occasional diarrhea and/or jaundice. At times Hepatitis B infection can lead to liver failure that is fatal or requires liver transplant.

Most people who have Hepatitis B recover completely, but may become chronic carriers. Young children who have Hepatitis B are at much greater risk than adults are, and infants are at the greatest risk of both acquiring Hepatitis B and becoming chronic carriers. There are more than one million carriers of Hepatitis B in the United States and more than 170 million in the world.

How Do People Get Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B can be transmitted through body fluids, blood (including contaminated needles), semen, tears, saliva, urine, breast milk and vaginal secretions. The most common ways people are exposed are by contact with blood, through sexual activity and by living in a household with a Hepatitis B carrier. Treatment is directed to relieving the symptoms of the disease. However, there is no known cure for Hepatitis B.

Each year 22,000 children are born to women who are carriers of HBV. In the past, 4,000-5,000 of these infants were born with HBV infection. Almost all of these infections can now be prevented.

A pregnant woman can find out if she is infected with HBV by having a simple blood test. If she is infected, she can protect her newborn infant from infection by having the child immunized with Hepatitis B vaccine and receive Hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG) as soon after birth as possible.

Anyone can get HBV infection. Because of the risk of serious liver disease, cancer or death resulting from HBV infection, all infants in the United States should be vaccinated against the virus.

How Can We Prevent Hepatitis B?

First eliminate any route of transmission with someone who is infected with Hepatitis B.

Second, receive the Hepatitis B vaccine series. The Hepatitis B vaccine is given by injection. Three doses, given on three different dates, are needed for full protection. The Hepatitis B vaccine prevents HBV infection in 85 to 95 percent of people who get all three shots.

Who Should Get the Hepatitis B Vaccine?

  1. Infants born to healthy women (non-carriers of HBV) - Vaccination during infancy and early childhood is recommended for all infants in the United States to prevent HBV infection and chronic HBV carriage. Infants should receive their first dose of vaccine at birth. The second dose can be given 1 to 3 months later and the third dose between 6 and 18 months of age. Hepatitis B is often part of a combination of vaccines your child will receive and can safely be given at the same time as the other immunizations.
  2. Infants born to women who are infected with Hepatitis B or who are chronic Hepatitis carriers - These infants should be given the Hepatitis B vaccine within 12 hours of birth. They should then get their second and third vaccine doses at 1 month and 6 months of age. They also need to receive an injection of Hepatitis B Immune Globulin (HBIG) within 12 hours of birth. If they do not receive these shots, these infants are at very high risk to be infected with Hepatitis B and become chronic carriers themselves.

What is the Hepatitis B Immune Globulin (HBIG) Injection?

HBIG is given along with Hepatitis B vaccine to infants who have been exposed to HBV from their mother. It gives protection from the virus for the first 1 to 3 months; then the vaccine takes over and gives long-lasting protection. HBIG is made from human plasma (a part of the blood). Any viruses found in the blood are killed during its preparation and no one has ever been known to get Hepatitis B, AIDS or any other virus from HBIG. Most people need only one dose to protect them after exposure to HBV.

What Side Effects Might Occur?

The most common side effect of Hepatitis B vaccination is soreness where the shot is given. Of children who get the vaccine, 2% to 5% may get a fever greater than 102 degrees or become irritable. When Hepatitis B vaccine is given with other childhood vaccines, it does not make these mild reactions worse than would be seen with the other vaccines alone.

HBIG has sometimes been associated with swelling and hives. As with any drug, there is a slight chance of allergic or more serious reactions with either the vaccine or HBIG. However, no serious reactions have been shown to occur due to the Hepatitis B recombinant vaccines (these are the ones currently in use). A person cannot get Hepatitis or AIDS from a Hepatitis B shot or from a HBIG shot.

Please consult your baby's physician with any questions regarding Hepatitis B and the vaccine.