Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver caused by the hepatitis B virus. Hepatitis B may affect each person differently. It can be mild, without symptoms, or it may cause chronic hepatitis. Hepatitis B can cause chronic liver disease and liver failure in infants and young children. The hepatitis B virus is spread from person to person through blood and body fluids, such as blood, semen, vaginal secretions, or saliva (although it is not generally transmitted by kissing). Infants may also get the disease if they are born to a mother who has the virus. Infected children often spread the virus to other children if there is frequent contact (for example, household contact) or a child has many scrapes or cuts. People who are likely to be exposed to hepatitis B are:
Children born to mothers who have hepatitis B
Children who are born to mothers who have immigrated from a country where hepatitis B is widespread, such as southeast Asia and China
Children who live in long-term care facilities or who are disabled
Children who live in households where another member is infected with the virus
Children who have a blood clotting disorder, such as hemophilia and require blood products
Children who require dialysis for kidney failure
Adolescents or adults who participate in high-risk activities, such as IV drug use, multiple sexual partners, and/or unprotected sex
People can contract hepatitis B virus infection without knowing how they got it. About one-third of hepatitis B cases in the United States have an unknown source.
The younger the person, the greater the likelihood of staying infected with hepatitis B and having life-long liver problems, such as scarring of the liver and liver cancer.
A vaccine for hepatitis B exists and is widely used for routine childhood immunization. Children currently get the first vaccine between birth and two months. The second vaccine is given at one to four months and the third vaccine at six to 18 months. The vaccine is generally required for all children born on or after January 1, 1992, before they enter school. The vaccine is available for older children who may have not been immunized before 1992 and is recommended before age 11 or 12. Hepatitis B vaccine will prevent this disease. Three doses are needed for full and lasting immunity. Hepatitis B vaccine may be given at the same time as other vaccines:
Infants of mothers who have hepatitis should receive both hepatitis B immune globulin and the hepatitis B vaccine in the first 12 hours of birth.
Infants of hepatitis B-negative mothers can receive the first dose from birth to two months of age.
The second dose must be given at least one month after the first dose.
The third dose must be given at least two months after the second dose and at least four months after the first. The third dose should not be given to infants younger than six months of age.
Catch-up immunization may occur between seven to 18 years of age.
A vaccine, like any medication, is capable of causing serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions. The risk of hepatitis B vaccine causing serious harm, or death, is extremely small. People who have a life-threatening allergy to baker's yeast should not receive the hepatitis B vaccine.
Getting a hepatitis B vaccine is much safer than contracting hepatitis B disease. Most people who receive hepatitis B vaccine do not have any problems with it. Risks may include:
Soreness in the location where the shot was given, lasting a day or two
Serious allergic reaction (very rare)
Give your child an aspirin-free pain reliever, as directed by your child's health care provider.
Watch for signs of reaction, such as high fever, difficulty breathing, behavior change, fast heart rate, or dizziness. Report these or any other unusual signs immediately to your child's health care provider.