Has your baby’s doctor given you a vaccination chart with confusing names of important vaccinations? Are you confused about the Hepatitis B vaccination, and wondering why it is important? Well, if these are questions that have concerned you, let’s ease your worries right now. Scroll down and learn why the Hepatitis B vaccine for newborns is so important.
What Is Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is a type of virus that causes a contagious liver infection. When the virus causes a long-term infection, it is known as chronic hepatitis B. In such a condition, the virus not only causes an infection in the liver but also damages it over time. Babies are the most likely to contract chronic hepatitis B (1).
What Are The Benefits Of Giving Hepatitis B Vaccine For Newborns?
Even though hepatitis B is considered an infection that is prevalent in adults, it can also infect babies. In most cases, hepatitis B occurs due to reckless and unprotected sexual contact or with the use of shared needles, both of which cannot be the cause of the infection in babies. However, if a mother is infected with hepatitis B, sometimes without being aware that she has the infection, she can still pass it on to her baby, who will then be affected with the same (2).
- According to most medical experts, it is safe to give the hepatitis b vaccine for babies as soon as they are born, or before they are discharged from the hospital.
- Most parents are not aware of the many dangers of the hepatitis B virus, and may not be aware that it can cause long-term damage, resulting in chronic hepatitis B. They are also not aware of the many health complications that can arise as a result of chronic hepatitis B, including liver cancer, liver failure and even cirrhosis, a condition in which the liver is scarred beyond treatment.
- It is true that a baby may not immediately have the risk of contracting the hepatitis B infection, but giving the shot will keep your baby from the risk of contracting the infection in the coming years. Babies are extremely sensitive to any virus, and their immune systems are not strong enough to ward off the same. It puts them at a higher risk of catching infections.
- When a baby who is younger than five years of age contracts hepatitis B, it turns into chronic hepatitis B. In such a situation, there is a 15 to 20 percent risk that the baby may contract a liver disease, such as liver cancer or liver failure, and suffer from a premature death.
- Almost nine out of ten babies who get affected by hepatitis B stay affected for life. Babies have extremely sensitive immune systems. While their immune systems are still in the developmental stage, getting affected with hepatitis B can have serious consequences.
- Sometimes, a baby may have hepatitis B but the parents may not be aware of the same unless it is too late. In such a situation, it is possible that the baby may pass on the infection to someone else who comes in direct contact with the baby, such as a grandparent, a nanny or any other member of the family, including an older child.
[ Read: Liver Problems In Babies ]
How Can Hepatitis B Spread To Your Baby?
Hepatitis B is a highly contagious disease that will spread through contaminated blood or any other body fluids. In most cases, any other bodily fluids that may spread the infection will also have some traces of blood in it. Since symptoms are not there for at least three to four months after the infection has kicked in, a person will not be aware of the risk of spreading infection or getting infected.
A baby can contract hepatitis B in the following ways:
- At the time of birth in case, the mother is infected with hepatitis B
- If the baby has accidentally touched an open sore or a wound of an infected person and comes in contact with contaminated blood
- In case the baby is accidentally bitten by a person who already has the hepatitis B infection
- If the baby is sharing a toothbrush or any other personal item that has also been used by the infected person and may have traces of bodily fluids
- If the infected person took a bite of or chewed on some food and then gave it to the baby
[ Read: Rotavirus Vaccine for Babies ]
What Can Be The Cause Of Hepatitis B In A Baby?
Hepatitis B is mostly known as an infection that affects adults but is also found in babies. Here are some of the most common ways in which a baby can get affected with hepatitis B:
- The most common way for a baby to get infected with hepatitis B is to get it from the mother at the time of birth, even though the mother may not be aware of the same.
- The infection can also reach the baby by spreading through someone else who is close to the baby and has the same infection (3).
[ Read: Causes Of Cancer in Babies ]
Is It Safe To Give The Hep B Vaccine For Newborns?
The hepatitis B vaccination is considered safe even when it is given to a baby. It is highly recommended that a baby be given the vaccination for hepatitis B before leaving the hospital so that there is maximum protection against the infection. Just as in the case of medicines, it is also possible that the newborn hepatitis B vaccine may cause some side effects, but there is no evidence of any serious side effects being seen in babies.
In case the mother also has hepatitis B and the doctors are aware of the same, an additional vaccine will be given to the baby. The vaccination is known as the hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG). The HBIG vaccine will give the baby an extra boost of protection against the hepatitis B infection right from the time the baby is born. The vaccination can provide the most amount of protection to the baby if it is given within 12 hours after the baby is born. To add more protection, it is important that the baby also be given all the shots that come as part of the hepatitis B vaccination (4).
[ Read: Hepatitis A Vaccine For Babies ]
Side Effects Of Hepatitis B Vaccine In Babies:
In most cases, there will be no side effects when your baby is given the hepatitis B vaccine. In case any side effect does occur, it will be mild, such as a low temperature. Alternatively, your baby may just have a little pain or soreness in the arm where the shot is given.
Just to be absolutely sure that you know the exact effects the hepatitis B vaccination may have on your baby, make sure you first speak to the doctor about it so that you can make an informed choice as a parent.
What Are The Symptoms Of Hepatitis B?
In most cases, there are no symptoms of hepatitis B, especially when it occurs in babies. However, older children and adults do show certain symptoms that are related to hepatitis B. Even though these symptoms may not always be present in a baby who is affected with the same, you can always watch out for the signs that may point towards an infection:
- The baby will show disinterest in feeding due to a lack of appetite
- The baby will look tired and may not be as playful or as active as otherwise
- There may be a slight to high temperature in the baby
- The skin and the eyes of the baby will take on a yellowish tint
- The baby may feel nauseous, vomit or even suffer from diarrhea
- The baby’s urine will also have a yellowish tint
- The baby may feel pain or discomfort in the joints or stomach and be cranky or cry as a result
- In most cases, the symptoms will first start to appear only after three or four months after the infection has set in.
[ Read: Symptoms Of Hepatitis In Babies ]
How Long Do The Effects Of The Hepatitis B Vaccine Last?
According to some studies, the immunologic memory of the hepatitis B vaccine stays strong for about 20 years. Also, the vaccination will provide protection to your baby against the HBV infection as well as against other illnesses. However, the levels of anti-HBs that may once have shown as being on adequate levels may gradually come down or go below levels that are easily detectable. Doctors and medical teams are carrying out research to find out if more booster shots could be used to increase the effectiveness of the vaccination (5).
What If The Mother’s HBV Test Results Are Not Available?
If the mother’s test results for HBV are not available at the time of birth, the doctors may follow the procedures mentioned below:
- Once the pregnant woman is admitted for birth at the hospital, the medical team will immediately draw blood to get a sample test done. The same should be done as soon as possible at the time of admission.
- If the baby is born before the test results come back, the newborn baby will be given the first dose of the single-antigen hepatitis B vaccine shot without the HBIG within the first 12 hours after the baby is born.
- In case the test results of the mother come back as positive before the baby is born, the baby should be given the HBIG as soon as possible after the birth. In any case, the vaccination has to be given not later than seven days after the baby is born.
- Also, the medical team should make sure that all the shots that have to be given as part of the vaccination series should be given as per the schedule that is recommended for infants and newborns. The procedure should follow the medical directive for the series of shots that should be given to babies who are born to mothers who test positive for HBsAg.
- In case the test results of the mother come back as negative before the birth of the baby, the series of vaccines to be given should still be completed as per the recommended schedule. The medical team should follow the procedures for vaccination that needs to be followed for those infants who are born to mothers who test as HBsAg negative.
Recommendation For Hepatitis B Vaccine In Infants Who Are Born Premature:
When a baby is born before term, or as a premature baby, the baby will either weigh less than two kg or weigh a little more. The effectiveness of the hepatitis B vaccination given to the baby in such a case will have a direct relation to the preterm baby’s birth weight. Here is a look:
- A preterm baby who has a birth weight of less than 2 kg at the time of birth will have a lesser amount of response to the hepatitis B vaccination, especially when the vaccination is given before the baby turns a month old.
- By the term the premature baby turns a month old, unless there is no other medical condition that the baby is suffering from, the immunologic response of the baby to the hepatitis B vaccination will be same as that of those babies who are born after completing a full term.
- In case the mother of the preterm baby tests positive for HBsAg at the time of birth:
- The newborn baby will be given the hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG) as well as the hepatitis B vaccine within the first 12 hours after the birth.
- The doctor will schedule a follow-up vaccination series for the additional hepatitis B vaccination dosage along with the single antigen vaccination when the baby turns six months, one year and between the ages of two and three years.
- Alternatively, the doctor will give a combination vaccine that contains hepatitis B vaccination. The doctor will give the shot at the ages of two, four and six months, known as Pediarix, or give the shots at the ages of two and four months and once between the ages of 12 and 15 months, known as Comvax.
- The doctor will also test your baby for HBsAg and anti-HBs after one or two months that the vaccination has been given at least thrice. The test will be done when your baby is between the ages of 9 and 18 months.
- The test for the above should definitely not be done before your baby is at least nine months of age, as the anti-HBs that result from the use of HBIG can still show up as positive and therefore give a misleading result.
- The test should also not be done within a month of the last vaccination shot that your baby has received. In case the test is done in a lesser span of time than a month after the last shot your baby has received, it can show a transient HBsAg positive result, which can also be misleading.
In case the results of the mother for HBsAg testing are not known at the time of birth:
- The doctor will first give the HBIG in addition to the hepatitis B vaccination within 12 hours after the baby is born.
- During this time, the doctors will also perform a proper blood test for the mother to check for her HBsAg status.
- The doctors will also give three additional hepatitis B doses of the vaccination with single antigen vaccination. The same will be given when your baby is one-month-old, between two to three months old and is six months old.
- Alternatively, the doctor may give a combination vaccine that contains hepatitis B. the doctor will give the vaccination at the time your baby is aged two months old, four months old and six months old, in which case the vaccination will be known as Pediarix. The doctor can also choose to give the vaccination when your baby is two months old, four months old and between 12 and 15 months old, in which case the vaccination will be known as Comvax.
In case the mother of the preterm baby tests negative for HBsAg at the time of birth:
- The doctor will first assess all your test results to make sure that your results are indeed negative and that there is no threat to you being HBsAg-positive.
- Once your doctor is sure that there is no threat to your baby of getting a positive HBsAg status from you, the doctor may delay the first dose of the hepatitis vaccine till the time your baby is ready to be discharged from the hospital or is a month old. In this case, the doctor will go by whichever of the two occurs first.
- The doctor will then follow up all the vaccination doses that will be as per the recommended schedule that your baby needs to be given.
- If the preterm baby weighs more than 2 kg at the time of birth, the doctors will follow the regular vaccination recommendations that are the same as for those babies who are born after a full term. The doctor will also follow the basic recommendations as per the test results of the mother, depending on whether they are positive or negative.
[ Read: Muscular Dystrophy In Babies ]
How Will You Know If Your Baby Is Safe From Hepatitis B?
Once your baby has been given all the recommended shots for the hepatitis B infection, your baby’s doctor will conduct some blood tests on your baby. The results will tell the doctor if your baby is completely protected and if there are any strains of the hepatitis B infection present in your baby. In most cases, your baby’s doctor will recommend the blood test after a gap of one or two months when your baby received the last hepatitis B vaccination. Make sure that you do not miss this test and that you take your baby back to the doctor for the follow-up blood test.
Preventing The Spread Of The Hepatitis B Infection:
Of course, it is natural for you to feel worried that you may unknowingly pass on the hepatitis B infection to your baby. The risk of not knowing that you carry the infection is even greater when you have a baby to care for, and may get you all worried if you can unknowingly do so. However, here are a few ways in which you will pass on the infection to your baby, even if you are hepatitis B positive and do not know so yet. Make sure to still speak to your doctor once so that you are sure:
1. While Breastfeeding:
If you are worried that you can pass on the hepatitis B infection to your baby while you are breastfeeding, make sure you don’t give in to those fears. Even though your breastmilk may be regarded as a type of bodily fluid, breastfeeding your baby will not pass on any infection to your little one.
2. While Cooking And Eating:
It is safe for you to continue with your basic cooking activities, especially if you are cooking for your family. Also, it is safe for you to continue eating meals with your baby, and none of these activities will pass on any hepatitis B infection to your baby. You do not run the risk of passing on the infection to your baby by simply touching utensils or glasses. However, to make sure that there is no risk of any contamination, always wash your hands before touching any utensils or drinking cups.
3. By Hugging Or Kissing:
Irrespective of whether or not you have hepatitis B or not, you cannot pass it on to your baby by hugging or kissing. If you are worried that touching your baby will pass on the infection, rest assured, continue hugging and kissing your baby and the only thing you will pass on is your love!
The hepatitis B infection is a serious one that remains unnoticed and undiagnosed until it is too late. Make sure you do speak to your baby’s doctor and understand about hepatitis b vaccine for infants to protect your baby.
At what age did your baby receive the hepatitis B vaccinations? Did he suffer from any side effects? Tell us here.
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