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What is Hepatitis B and how can I protect my child from it?

Hepatitis B is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Lifelong HBV infection can lead to liver cancer or scarring of the liver (cirrhosis).

HBV often is spread by blood or body fluids. Exposure to these fluids can happen in the following ways:

  • During birth (if the mother has HBV)
  • Sharing personal items like razors or toothbrushes with an infected person
  • Having unprotected sex with an infected person
  • Injecting or "shooting" drugs using a needle with infected blood

Some children also may become infected with HBV while living in the same household as a person with a lifelong form of the infection. It is unknown how or why this happens.

The hepatitis B vaccine is the best way to protect your child from being infected.

Your child needs at least 3 doses of hepatitis B vaccine to be fully protected. The doses are usually given

  • At birth
  • At 1 to 4 months of age
  • At 6 to 18 months of age

The vaccine is very safe. No serious reactions have been linked to this vaccine. Side effects are usually mild and include fussiness or soreness where the shot was given. Symptoms usually go away within 48 to 72 hours. Keep in mind, getting the vaccine is much safer than getting the disease.

People with HBV can pass it to others who aren't protected. Without the hepatitis B vaccine, 1 out of every 20 Americans could become infected. Vaccinating your child against this virus will protect her now and when she is older and exposed to more people.


Last Updated
Hepatitis B (Copyright ┬ę 2005 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.