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 body fluids
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:
Loss of appetite
Nausea or vomiting
Weakness or tiredness
Light-colored bowel movements
Yellow coloring to the skin and eyes
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.
March 21, 2017
Adler, Liora C., MD,Finke, Amy, RN, BSN