Is Your Child at Risk for Hepatitis B?
The preteen years are a time when young people try out new things and begin to exercise
their independence. For these reasons, it is very important for your child to be vaccinated
against hepatitis B. The hepatitis B virus (HBV) is spread through having sex with
an infected person without using a condom and by sharing infected needles. It also
is spread through unplanned needle sticks or from an infected mother to her baby during
birth. Even sharing a toothbrush or a razor can spread hepatitis B. This is why it
is very important that children are vaccinated as young as possible.
What is hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is a highly contagious, sexually transmitted disease caused by a virus
that attacks the liver. It can possibly cause lifelong liver infection, scarring of
the liver, liver cancer, and death. According to the CDC, in the United States, HBV
is responsible for an estimated 2,000 to 4,000 deaths each year. People of any age
can become infected with HBV. Coming in contact with a small amount of blood or body
fluids from an infected person can infect a person who is not protected against HBV.
The good news is that HBV can be prevented through vaccines.
These factors put a person at high risk for getting HBV:
Having unprotected sex
Having sex with more than one partner
Having another sexually transmitted disease
Using injected drugs
Using unsterilized needles when tattooing, ear-piercing or body-piercing
Sharing personal items like razors or toothbrushes
Sharing chewing gum
Touching fresh skin breaks, cuts, burns, or blood of an infected person
Living with a long-term infected person
Working in a hospital or other healthcare facility where it is possible to come
in contact with fresh skin breaks, cuts, burns, blood, or blood-contaminated
Pregnant women with hepatitis B can infect their children during childbirth. Infected
people can pass the virus to their babies if they pre-chew food for them.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis B?
Adolescents who get hepatitis B usually have no signs. In some cases, infection with
HBV may cause some of the following symptoms:
In the United States, infants have been vaccinated against HBV since 1991. The American
Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the CDC and the
Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommend the HepB vaccine for all babies
and children who have not been vaccinated before as part of routine childhood vaccines.
It is also recommended for adults who are at high risk. The CDC recommends a three-dose
plan of the HepB vaccine for enough protection.
Talk to your healthcare provider about receiving the hepatitis B vaccine.