Hepatitis B is an infection caused by the hepatitis B virus. The hepatitis B virus can cause either acute (short-lived) or chronic (long-term) liver disease. Although babies infected with this virus usually have either no or very mild symptoms, more than 90% will go on to be chronically infected ‘carriers’ of the virus. Carriers of the hepatitis B virus are not only able to pass the virus onto others, but also have a considerably increased risk of developing serious liver problems, including liver cancer, in adulthood.Licensed Midwives in Virginia do not currently provide any vaccines to newborns. This vaccine, in addition to any other vaccines you desire for your baby, must be obtained through your family or pediatric physician.HOW IS HEPATITIS B SPREAD?The hepatitis B virus is found in infected body fluids including vaginal secretions, breast milk, blood, semen and saliva. Babies whose mothers are carriers of the hepatitis B virus are at a very high risk of being infected with the virus during, or soon after, birth.
The hepatitis B virus can be spread by contact with infected blood (during, or soon after, the birth process) and through breast feeding, by contact with cuts or sores, sharing a razor, tooth brushes, needles and syringes, through needle stick injuries and body piercing and through sexual contact.MEDICAL STANDARDThe medical standard of care is to immunize all babies for Hepatitis B at birth because:A baby of a hepatitis B carrier mother is at high risk of being infected at, or soon after, birth through contact with blood or through breast feeding.
Even though you (the baby’s mother) may not be a hepatitis B carrier it is possible that someone else in your home or family is a carrier. This person may not know that he/she is a carrier, and could infect your baby through an open cut or sore.
The risk of becoming a carrier of the hepatitis B virus is highest in the very young; carriers are at high risk of developing serious liver problems later in life.
Even though the risk of being infected and becoming a carrier is highest in the very young, this is the age when the infection is least visible because it causes no (or very few) symptoms.
It provides an opportunity to protect babies from hepatitis B who may not return for future vaccines.VACCINE RISKSThe analysis of risk versus benefit for any vaccine is currently very controversial in the public health world. The are numerous studiesthat show the safety and effectiveness of the hepatitis B vaccine for newborns. There are also studies and case reports of mild to severe reactions to this vaccine. Every parent should review the literature and make a decision about this vaccine for their baby.