Babies and Hepatitis B Vaccine

Did you know that babies should get Hepatitis B vaccine as one of their first vaccines? Here's why.

Hepatitis B Infection

Hepatitis B is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). HBV spreads when the virus-contaminated blood of one person enters the body of an uninfected individual. This can occur through unprotected sex, by sharing needles, among other instances, and an HBV-infected mother can pass the virus to her baby during birth.

Hepatitis B is very serious. Approximately 9 out of 10 babies who are not vaccinated at birth become chronically infected. People who have chronic hepatitis B are infectious and can transmit HBV to others, and they may suffer from liver sicknesses including liver cancer.

Hepatitis B Vaccine

Hepatitis B vaccine is usually a three-dose series and is recommended for babies beginning from birth age. Any children or adults who did not receive the vaccine or who did not complete their vaccine series should get the recommended hepatitis B vaccine doses as soon as possible. Also, mothers who are pregnant can safely get vaccinated.

Babies and Hepatitis B Vaccine

There are a few reasons for recommending that infants receive the hepatitis B vaccine, despite the fact that they may not be exposed to HBV infection until later in life or even at all.

•1) People infected at a young age (babies and young children) have a higher risk of developing chronic HBV infection. This means they run a greater risk of suffering from liver diseases such as cirrhosis and liver cancer, and that they can spread the infection to others.

•2) Most significantly, unlike other childhood diseases there are usually no symptoms of HBV infection in babies. In other words, infants may be HBV-infected without anyone knowing it.

•3) HBV infection is spreading more rampantly today and many cases of chronic HBV infection are acquired during childhood. While hepatitis B was once spread mainly in households where an HBV-infected individual lived, today the number of ways in which young children and babies are exposed is growing. Indeed, the spread of HBV is now recognized in day-care centers and schools, and can result from skin punctures and cuts, the sharing of toiletries such as washcloths or toothbrushes, and more.

•4) Since hepatitis B vaccine provides long-term protection lasing for at least decades, and since it is now estimated that in the United States unvaccinated babies have a significant chance of developing HBV infection sometime during their lives - even if people avoid obvious means of exposure - it is imperative that babies at birth receive hepatitis B vaccine as one of their first vaccinations.

Booster Vaccine Shots

Parents often ask if their child or baby will need a 'booster' vaccine shot against hepatitis B later on in life. So far the evidence shows that the immune system retains a 'memory' of sorts of the vaccination and that it continues to provide protection against HBV exposure even years later. Therefore at this point in time booster shots are not recommended for individuals with normal immune systems.

Hepatitis A and C

Hepatitis A and hepatitis C are different diseases caused by different viruses, therefore the hepatitis B vaccine does not protect against them. Currently there is a vaccine for hepatitis A, but not for hepatitis C.

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