Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver caused by the hepatitis B virus. Hepatitis B has a wide range of clinical presentations. It can be mild, without symptoms, or it may cause chronic hepatitis. In some cases, when infants and young children acquire hepatitis B, they are at high risk for chronic liver disease and liver failure. Transmission of hepatitis B virus occurs through blood and body fluid exposure such as blood, semen, vaginal secretions, or saliva (although it is not generally transmitted by kissing). Infants may also develop the disease if they are born to a mother who has the virus. Infected children often spread the virus to other children if there is frequent contact (i.e., household contact) or a child has many scrapes or cuts. The following describes persons who are at risk for developing hepatitis B:
People can contract hepatitis B virus infection without knowing how they got it. About one-third of hepatitis B cases in the United States have an unknown source.
The younger the person, the greater the likelihood of staying infected with hepatitis B and having life-long liver problems, such as scarring of the liver and liver cancer.
A vaccine for Hepatitis B does exist and is now widely used for routine childhood immunization. Children currently receive the first vaccine between birth and two months, the second vaccine at one to four months and the third vaccine at six to 18 months. The vaccine is generally required for all children born on or after January 1, 1992, before they enter school. The vaccine is available for older children who may have not been immunized before 1992 and is recommended before age 11 or 12. Hepatitis B vaccine will prevent this disease. Three doses are needed for full and lasting immunity. Hepatitis B vaccine may be given at the same time as other vaccines.
A vaccine, like any medication, is capable of causing serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions. The risk of hepatitis B vaccine causing serious harm, or death, is extremely small. Persons who have a life-threatening allergy to baker's yeast should not receive the hepatitis B vaccine.
Receiving hepatitis B vaccine is much safer than contracting hepatitis B disease. Most people who receive hepatitis B vaccine do not have any problems with it. Risks may include:
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