Sadly, out of all age groups, it is infants and very young children that are at the greatest risk for acquiring a chronic, life-long infection with hepatitis B. In fact 90% of babies exposed to HBV will become chronically infected, and will live with the virus for the rest of their lives. This includes mother-to-child transmission, and horizontal transmission from close contacts. This is why the first dose of the hepatitis B vaccine is recommended before leaving the hospital. The vaccine is safe and effective. Choosing to vaccinate is an option those of us with HBV infected children would have LOVED to have.
Hepatitis B is a silent disease. Forty percent of people living with HBV have no idea how they became infected. Others have not yet been diagnosed. Many likely acquired it at birth, or early exposure, and have had the virus smoldering for decades. They may find out about it in routine blood tests, or from the Red Cross following a blood donation. Hepatitis B is non-discriminating, although it is more prevalent in certain high risk groups. Sometimes being part of a high risk group is as simple as having a parent born in a country where HBV is endemic. Hepatitis B is 100 times more infectious than HIV, and yet many people say they would get vaccinated against HIV if a vaccine existed. Why not hepatitis B?
So why have your infant vaccinated at birth? It just makes sense. How can you be assured all house-hold contacts are not infected? War heroes get infected, as do health care workers, and other loving family members – mommies, daddies, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Parents go to work, and little ones go to day care. They play at the neighbor’s house or with friends at pre-school. Blood spills occur and sometimes they’re not properly managed, or even noticed. Boo-boo’s come uncovered and little friends touch. Sometimes “love-bites” are exchanged much to the dismay of parents. Even the most vigilant parent is going to miss something. HBV is not transmitted casually, but the possibility of exposure cannot be denied – especially at such a young age.
Hepatitis B is a poster-child for infant vaccination. It is a tenacious virus, and there is no true cure. If you are a pregnant woman, be sure you are tested for hepatitis B during your pregnancy. If you are HBV positive, break the cycle . One in five at-risk babies in the U.S. may NOT be receiving the necessary treatment, so SPEAK UP and ensure your baby receives prophylaxis treatment at birth. Complete the vaccine series and have your baby tested for HBV at his one-year checkup to ensure he is protected.
If you are not HBV positive give yourself piece-of-mind. When your baby is born, be sure to have her vaccinated before you leave the hospital, and give her a lifetime of protection against hepatitis B.