Is Your Child at Risk for Hepatitis B?

The preteen years are a time when young people experiment with new things and begin to exert 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 contaminated needles. It also is spread through accidental needle sticks, affecting health care workers, or from an infected mother to her baby during birth.

What is hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a highly contagious, sexually transmitted disease caused by a virus that attacks the liver, possibly causing lifelong liver infection, cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, liver cancer, and death. In the United States, HBV is responsible for an estimated 2,000 to 5,000 deaths each year. People of any age can become infected with HBV. A person who is not immune to HBV can become infected by coming in contact with a small amount of blood or body fluids from an infected person.

About 800,000 to 1.4 million people in the United States carry the virus and can infect others. The good news is that HBV can be prevented through vaccination.

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 hygiene items such as razors or toothbrushes

  • Sharing chewing gum

  • Touching fresh skin breaks, cuts, burns or blood of an infected person

  • Living with a chronically infected person

  • Working in a hospital or other health care 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.

Symptoms of hepatitis B

Adolescents who get hepatitis B usually have no symptoms. In some cases, infection with HBV may cause some of the following symptoms:

  • Fever

  • Loss of appetite

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Weakness or tiredness

  • Abdominal pain

  • Light-colored bowel movements

  • Dark urine

  • Yellow coloring to the skin and eyes (jaundice)

In the United States, infants have been vaccinated against HBV since 1991. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommend the HepB vaccine for all babies and unvaccinated children as part of routine childhood immunizations, and for adults who are at high risk. The CDC recommends a three-dose schedule of the HepB vaccine for adequate protection.

Talk to your doctor about receiving the hepatitis B vaccine.

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