Hepatitis B is a serious liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus. For some, hepatitis B infection becomes chronic, leading to liver failure, liver cancer or cirrhosis (a condition that causes permanent scarring of the liver).
A person who is unaware that they have hepatitis B can easily pass the disease on to a baby or unvaccinated child. Ways to pass the disease include giving birth (spread from infected mother to baby); through contact with blood from cuts or sores; by biting another person; and though actions as simple as the sharing of a toothbrush or the sharing of food that was chewed (for a baby).
Not all people with hepatitis B have symptoms. However, if they occur, they usually appear about three months after infection and can range from mild to severe, including:
The best way to prevent hepatitis B is by getting the hepatitis B vaccine (Hep B).
For the most protection against hepatitis B, your children need to receive all three recommended doses of the Hep B vaccine. The first dose should be given within 24 hours of birth. This shot acts as a safety net, reducing the risk of getting hepatitis B from moms or family members who may not know they are infected with the disease. Unfortunately, many parents mistakenly believe that hepatitis B is strictly a sexually-transmitted disease and therefore are reluctant to have their children vaccinated at the recommended ages. Additional doses of the vaccine should be given between 1 and 2 months, and between 6 and 18 months. To see if your children are up-to-date on their vaccines, look at the CDC’s recommended immunization schedule and talk to your healthcare provider.
Learn more about Hepatitis B vaccination for adults.