Vaccinate Your Baby

Hepatitis B

Click on the photo above to open the Hepatitis B page from the Vaccine-Preventable Diseases eBook!

The Disease

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.

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).

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. Many parents mistakenly believe that hepatitis B is strictly a sexually-transmitted disease and are reluctant to have their child vaccinated at the recommended ages. In fact, an individual who is unaware that they have hepatitis B can easily pass on the disease to an unvaccinated child when giving birth (spread from infected mother to baby) or through an action as simple as the sharing of a toothbrush. Even a kiss on the mouth or kissing a "boo boo" could possibly transmit hepatitis B if the infected person has an open sore or cut on/in their mouth.

People can also become infected with the virus during activities such as sex with an infected partner; sharing needles or syringes; sharing items such as razors with an infected person; direct contact with the blood or open sores of an infected person; and exposure to blood from needle sticks or other sharp instruments.

The Statistics

In the U.S., 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. 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. For the best protection 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.

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.

Additional Resources


Back to Vaccine-Preventable Diseases »