Hepatitis B (HepB)

This woman is suffering from liver cancer caused by hepatitis B

What is Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B, caused by infection with the Hepatitis B virus, is a contagious liver disease that ranges in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness. Acute Hepatitis B is a short-term illness that occurs within the first 6 months after someone is exposed to the virus. Acute infection may lead to chronic infection. Chronic Hepatitis B virus infection is a long-term illness that occurs when the Hepatitis B virus remains in a person’s body. This can eventually lead to serious health problems, including liver damage, liver cancer, and even death.

Hepatitis B is spread when blood, semen, or other body fluid infected with the Hepatitis B virus enters the body of a person who is not infected. People can become infected with the virus during activities such as birth (spread from an infected mother to her baby); sex with an infected partner; sharing needles or syringes; sharing items such as razors or toothbrushes with an infected person; direct contact with the blood or open sores of an infected person; and exposure to blood from needlesticks or other sharp instruments.

Not all people with acute Hepatitis B have symptoms. However, if they appear, symptoms can include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, clay-colored bowel movements, joint pain, and jaundice (yellow color in the skin or the eyes).

Unfortunately, many parents mistakenly believe that Hepatitis B is strictly a sexually transmitted disease and are therefore reluctant to have their child vaccinated at the recommended ages.

The Statistics
In the United States, an estimated 800,000 to 1.4 million persons have chronic Hepatitis B virus infection. About 5,000 persons will die each year from hepatitis B-related liver disease resulting in over $700 million in medical and work loss costs.

Newborns that become infected with Hepatitis B virus have a 90% chance of developing chronic Hepatitis B. However, with the recommendation for routine Hepatitis B vaccination of children the number of new infections per year has declined approximately 82 percent.

The Vaccine
The HepB vaccine protects against the Hepatitis B virus. Children need three doses of the vaccine. The first dose should be given at birth (before leaving the hospital), the second dose between 1 and 2 months, and the third dose between 6 and 18 months of age. A woman with Hepatitis B can pass the disease on to her baby at birth. However, almost all cases of Hepatitis B can be prevented if a baby born to an infected woman receives the necessary vaccinations at the recommended times. The infant should receive a shot called Hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG) and the first dose of Hepatitis B vaccine within 12 hours of birth. Two or three additional shots of vaccine are needed over the next 1–15 months to help prevent Hepatitis B.

The HepB vaccine should be given to adults with certain risk factors (on the basis of medical, occupation, lifestyle or specific other indications) and to anyone who wants to be protected against Hepatitis B. Three doses of the vaccine are needed usually over a 6 month time period.

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