Is Your Child at Risk for Hepatitis B?
The preteen years are a time when young people try out new things. They start to become
more independent. For these reasons, it's very important that you make sure your child
has been vaccinated against hepatitis B (hep B). The hep B virus can be spread by
having sex with an infected person without using a condom and by sharing infected
needles. Even sharing a toothbrush or a razor can spread hep B.
What is hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is a highly contagious, sexually transmitted infection. It's caused by
a virus that attacks the liver. It can possibly cause lifelong liver infection, scarring
of the liver, liver cancer, and death. In the U.S., hep B causes an estimated 2,000
to 4,000 deaths each year.
People of any age can become infected with hep B. Babies born to a person with hep
B can become infected. Coming in contact with a small amount of blood or body fluids
from an infected person can infect a person of any age who is not protected against
hep B. The younger the person is at the time of infection, the greater the likelihood
of staying infected with hep B and having lifelong liver problems.
The good news is that hep B can be prevented through vaccines.
These factors put a person at high risk for getting hep B:
Having unprotected sex
Having sex with more than one partner
Having another sexually transmitted infection
Using injected drugs or sharing drug paraphernalia such as straws
Using unsterilized needles when tattooing, ear-piercing, or body-piercing
Sharing personal items like razors or toothbrushes with an infected person
Sharing chewing gum with an infected person
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's possible to come in
contact with fresh skin breaks, cuts, burns, blood, or blood-contaminated body fluids
Pregnant people with hep B can infect their children during childbirth. Even though
universal hep B screening is included in routine prenatal care, there are pregnant
people who deliver babies and are unaware they are infected with hep B. Infected people
can also pass the virus to their babies if they pre-chew food for them. This is why
the hep B vaccine is given within the first few days of life.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis B?
Teens and young children who get hep B often have no signs. In some cases, they may
have these symptoms:
In the U.S., babies have been vaccinated against hep B since 1991. Health experts
recommend the hep B vaccine for all babies and children who have not yet been vaccinated.
They also recommend it for adults who are at high risk.
Talk with your child's healthcare provider about the hep B vaccine.