Hepatitis B is an infection of the liver. It is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). HBV can cause lifelong HBV infection and can lead to liver cancer or permanent scarring of the liver (cirrhosis).
More than 1 million people in the United States are living with lifelong HBV infection. Anyone can get infected with HBV, including your child. The
hepatitis B vaccine is the best way to protect your child from becoming infected.
Read on for more information from the American Academy of Pediatrics about how HBV is spread and why the hepatitis B vaccine is so important.
How is hepatitis B virus spread?
Hepatitis B virus is spread by blood or body fluids.
Here are ways exposure to these fluids can happen:
During birth (if the mother has HBV)
Sharing personal items, such as razors or toothbrushes, with a person who is infected
Having unprotected sex with a person who is infected
Injecting or shooting drugs using a needle with infected blood -- Infection through direct contact with infected blood may occur.
Some children may also become infected with HBV while living in the same household as a person with a lifelong form of the infection.
Why is my child at risk?
You may feel your child will never be exposed to HBV in any of these ways.
Here are some facts about HBV to think about:
One-third of people who are infected with HBV in the United States don't know how they got it.
Some people with HBV do not even know they are infected.
A person, especially a child, with HBV may not feel or look sick.
Nearly half of the more than 5,000 adult Americans who die from hepatitis B each year caught their infection during childhood.
People with HBV can pass it to others who aren't protected. Immunizing your child against this virus will protect her now and when she is older and exposed to more people.
Is the hepatitis B vaccine safe?
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 that getting the vaccine is much safer than getting the disease.
When should my child get the hepatitis B vaccine?
Your child needs at least 3 doses of hepatitis B vaccine to be fully protected.
The recommended times to receive hepatitis B vaccine are:
At 1 to 2 months of age
At 6 to 18 months of age
Newborns should receive their first dose of vaccine within the first 24 hours of birth. Newborns who for a medical or other reason did not get the vaccine at birth should get their first dose as soon as possible, and complete all 3 doses at the recommended intervals.
If a pregnant woman tests positive for HBV during routine prenatal screening or at the time of delivery, her child must receive the first dose of hepatitis B vaccine within 12 hours of birth. The second dose should be given at 1 month of age, and the final dose by 6 months of age.
Older children or teens who have not been immunized and any unvaccinated person living with a person who is known to be infected by HBV should receive 3 doses of the vaccine to be protected against infection.
It's important that your child gets all 3 doses of the hepatitis B vaccine as recommended in the childhood immunization schedule. The vaccine is very effective. More than 95% of children who receive all the recommended doses of the vaccine are fully protected against the illnesses caused by HBV.
Who should not get the vaccine?
In rare cases, there are children who should not get the vaccine, including:
Children who had a severe allergic reaction to a previous dose of the vaccine. Such reactions are rare.
Children who are more than mildly sick on the day the vaccination is scheduled. These children may need to wait until they are feeling better. Children with minor colds, an upset stomach, or an ear infection can receive the hepatitis B vaccine safely.
Immunizations have protected children for years, but vaccines only work if your child is immunized. It only takes 3 doses of the hepatitis B vaccine to protect your child for a lifetime.
Additional Information from HealthyChildren.org: