Hep B Blog

Tag Archives: Pediatrics

What to do about hepatitis B when you’re pregnant?

Around the world, the most common mode of hepatitis B transmission is from mother to child. Unfortunately, pregnant mothers who have hepatitis B can transmit the virus to their newborn during the delivery process. 90% of these HBV infected babies will progress to chronic infection  putting them at increased risk of serious liver disease or liver cancer later in life.

It is important that ALL pregnant women get tested for hepatitis B to prevent the transmission of the virus to newborns at birth.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all newborns born to hepatitis B positive women be given two shots in the delivery room – the first dose of hepatitis B vaccine (5 mcg dose) and one dose of hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG, 0.5 mL dose). If a woman knows that she is infected, it is important that she tell her doctor to have these two drugs available when she is ready to deliver. These two shots must be given at separate injection sites, i.e. different limbs. When administered correctly within the first 12 hours of life, a newborn has a 95% chance of being protected against a lifelong hepatitis B infection. The infant will need to complete the hepatitis B vaccine according to schedule as part of a 3 or 4 dose series. CDC recommends follow up testing to confirm immunity or protection against HBV at 9 months or at the baby’s 1 year checkup.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends the birth dose of the hepatitis B vaccine for ALL babies, though it is especially important for a baby born to a woman with hepatitis B to receive the first dose of the vaccine as soon as possible, within 24 hours. HBIG may not be available in all countries or may be cost prohibitive. The hepatitis B vaccine series may be completed with the remaining monovalent  (single) injections of the HBV vaccine, or may be completed as part of a combination vaccine series.

In developing countries combination vaccines such as the pentavalent vaccine are often given to babies. The first dose of the pentavalent vaccine (which includes hepatitis B vaccine) is given at 6 weeks of age, and the 2nd and 3rd doses are given at 10 and 14 weeks of age. Waiting for the first dose at 6 weeks is too late for babies born to mothers living with chronic hepatitis, though the pentavalent vaccine should never be used as the birth dose or before 6 weeks. Women who know they have hepatitis B should talk to their doctor about ensuring that a birth dose of the hepatitis B vaccine is available for their baby at birth.

There is no second chance!  It is vitally important that we protect all newborns from hepatitis B!

Also, all infected pregnant women need to learn more about their hepatitis B infection from a liver specialist or a doctor with experience treating patients with chronic hepatitis B. It is recommended that pregnant women have their hepatitis B monitored throughout their pregnancy, to check the health of their liver and to see if they need treatment. For HBeAg positive women with high hepatitis B viral loads, taking FDA-approved antivirals during the last trimester can reduce the amount of virus in the blood and help prevent the chance of transmission to the newborn. Once an infected woman gives birth, it is important that she routinely see her doctor to keep monitoring her hepatitis B infection. Keeping mothers healthy allows them to better take care of their families!

For more information, or if you live in the U.S. and need help with hepatitis B infection during pregnancy, please visit the Perinatal Hepatitis B Prevention Program to find a coordinator near you. If you are outside of the U.S., you may consider visiting the World Hepatitis Alliance to find if there are organizations in your country that can ensure your baby starts with a birth dose of the hepatitis B vaccine.

Visit our website for additional information!

Celebrate Mothers’ Day with High-Quality Healthcare First, Sentimentality Second

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

By Christine Kukka

In 1914, the United States designated the second Sunday in May as “Mothers’ Day.” Its founder, Anna Jarvis, hoped the holiday would focus on her own mother’s work promoting peace and public health. Years later, Jarvis protested loudly when the holiday became better known for sentimentality and greeting card sales.

Our nation often loses sight of a holiday’s original intent, but this Mother’s Day we can bring back the goal of preserving public health, especially where it concerns mothers and infectious diseases.

Decades ago, researchers developed one of the most extraordinary life-saving vaccines–hepatitis B immunization. It saves lives in two ways: It protects children and adults from infection and it breaks the vicious cycle of mother-to-child infection. A baby born to a hepatitis B-infected almost always becomes infected. The vaccine, administered within hours of birth, breaks that cycle.

When the vaccine debuted in the late 1970s and early 1980s, most people with chronic hepatitis B had been infected at birth. When newborns and children are infected, their immune systems don’t recognize or attack the virus and the infection can continue indefinitely.

To stop this infection cycle, today all pregnant women are screened for hepatitis B. Babies born to infected women are immediately vaccinated and treated with HBIG (hepatitis B antibodies). This public health initiative has been extremely successful in dramatically reducing hepatitis B. However, the campaign’s focus has been primarily on newborns and the hepatitis B-infected mothers were often forgotten. Though hepatitis B infections had been identified, the infected mothers were often lost to follow-up, and this neglect continues today. Continue reading "Celebrate Mothers’ Day with High-Quality Healthcare First, Sentimentality Second"

Why Won’t Doctors Treat Young Adults with High Viral Load and No Signs of Liver Damage?

Image courtesy of Graur Razvan Ionut at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Image courtesy of Graur Razvan Ionut at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

If antiviral medications almost always lower viral loads, why don’t doctors treat young adults with high viral loads with this daily pill? After all, don’t high viral loads lead to liver damage and even liver cancer?

This is one of the most common questions posed to the Hepatitis B Foundation, and at first glance the decision not to treat a high viral load with antivirals seems counter-intuitive or plain wrong. If antivirals reduce the number of hepatitis B virus (HBV) in the body, won’t that give the immune system an opportunity to clear out the remaining residual HBV?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. It’s complicated, as are many aspect of hepatitis B.

It’s common for young adults (up to age 30) who live with hepatitis B to be in the “immune tolerant” stage of infection with extremely high viral load (HBV DNA) but with no signs of liver damage.

When we’re born to mothers infected with hepatitis B, unless we’re immunized at birth 90 percent of us become infected from exposure to infectious blood and body fluids during delivery. And when infants are infected, their immature immune systems don’t recognize the virus. The young immune system misses the “red flag” signature on this hepatitis B virus and “tolerates” the infection instead of attacking it.

In contrast, when we’re infected as healthy adults, our immune systems immediately detect and identify hepatitis B as a viral invader and aggressively attacks the virus and any infected liver cells. In adults, it generally can take up to six months for the immune system to eradicate the virus. When we’re infected as children, it can take up to three or even four decades for our immune systems to notice the virus and shift into “immune active” battle mode.

Until the immune systems notice the virus and begins to fight the infection, children and young adults remain in the “immune tolerant” stage, with sky high viral loads that can reach 1 billion international units per milliliter (IU/mL). Unencumbered by an immune system that’s on the offense, the virus hijacks liver cells to replicate and churn out more virus.

Because the immune system isn’t attacking and damaging the infected liver cells, liver tests (ALT or SGPT) results show no signs of damage and usually remain in the normal range (30 or less for men and 19 or less for women). And until our immune systems wake up and launches its attack, doctors say there is no reason to try to lower the viral load in these young adults because even when antivirals lower viral load, the immune system stays dormant and doesn’t go on the offensive.

Experts recently re-examined whether this hands-off approach was still valid and reviewed more than a dozen studies that examined whether antiviral treatment benefited immune-tolerant adults.

At the November 2015 AASLD Liver Conference, researchers reported, “There are no studies demonstrating that antiviral therapy is beneficial in reducing rates of liver cancer, cirrhosis, and liver-related death in persons with immune-tolerant chronic hepatitis B.”

Following their instruction to “first do no harm,” the experts recommended, “Given the lack of evidence of benefit to those with (high viral load and normal ALT levels), the potential harms of finite (or longer) antiviral therapy, including cost, antiviral drug side effects, and development of resistance, outweigh benefits.”

Let’s explore their rationale:

  • Antivirals work for only as long as you take them. Once started because of liver damage, patients can be on them for many years, and when patients go off antivirals, they often experience a “flare” with a sudden increase in viral load and ALT levels that can be dangerous.
  • The leading antivirals, including tenofovir (Viread) and entecavir (Baraclude), are not cheap, especially tenofovir which is not yet available in a generic formula.
  • And antivirals have side effects, which can include bone loss, impact on kidney function, and a risk of developing drug resistance.

So, if treatment will not yield good results, why put young adults through the cost and medical risk? In fact, experts don’t even treat immune-tolerant patients who have family members with hepatitis B-related liver cancer.

The experts did make clear that all immune-tolerant patients should have their ALT levels and viral load checked at least every six months so doctors could monitor their infection.

Still, this is challenging to hear when we are living with hepatitis B or just recently diagnosed with a chronic infection. We want to do something to fight the infection. But without an active immune system as a strategic partner in our fight against hepatitis B, we must be patient and let go of a quick-fix hope, as much as we all want a magic pill to cure our infection.

So in the interim, until our immune systems wake up and starting fighting the virus in our bodies, we do what we can to protect our health, including eating healthy foods, avoiding alcohol and cigarettes, and getting monitored every six months. It may not feel like it’s enough, but for now it’s all we can do.



Cold and Flu Season Is Here. If You Live with Hepatitis B, You Need a Flu Shot. Now.

 Image courtesy of Sura Nualpradid at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Sura Nualpradid at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Flu season is here and if you or a family member lives with chronic hepatitis B, it’s time to get a flu shot as soon as possible!

Why? According to an article in the November 2015 issue of the medical journal Vaccine, chronic hepatitis B patients who get a flu shot have a lower rate of flu-related hospitalizations than patients who skip the annual flu vaccine. Continue reading "Cold and Flu Season Is Here. If You Live with Hepatitis B, You Need a Flu Shot. Now."

Is Your Family Getting Together for the Holidays? Time to Discover Your Medical History

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When we have chronic hepatitis B, knowing our family medical history can give us an inside edge to fight this infection.

Hepatitis B is an infection that often runs in families, and knowing how our parents or grandparents handled this liver disease can give us insider information about our own genetic prospects with hepatitis B.

Experts estimate that more than half of us worldwide became infected at birth. Our mothers may have been infected with hepatitis B and immunization, which can prevent infection if administered within 12 hours of birth, was not available to us as newborns, nor to our mothers or grandmothers. Continue reading "Is Your Family Getting Together for the Holidays? Time to Discover Your Medical History"

New Hepatitis B Treatment Guidelines Revealed at AASLD 2015 Conference


The American Association for the Study of Liver Disease (AASLD), the organization that defines how doctors should treat hepatitis B and other liver ailments, unveiled new hepatitis B treatment guidelines this week at its annual conference in San Francisco.

The new guidelines are published here.  Patients should review them and discuss any updates that address their individual conditions with their physicians. Continue reading "New Hepatitis B Treatment Guidelines Revealed at AASLD 2015 Conference"

The Annual Hepatitis B Check-up: Facing Mortality and a Missing History

Image by worradmu, courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Image by worradmu, courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

For more than 20 years, I have accompanied my daughter to her annual hepatitis B check-up with her liver specialist. She is 22 and does not need me to come, but I always go out of habit and love.

After the appointment, we sit eating lunch and I talk about how lucky she is that her liver has been healthy and her viral load undetectable for many years. Recently, she started testing negative for the hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg). However, she has never developed hepatitis B surface antibodies. Her immune system has cleaned house, but has lacked the power to produce enough surface antibodies to show up on lab tests and declare her free of infection.

For the second year in a row, her doctor gave her a hepatitis B vaccine shot, an experiment to see if the injection of HBsAg would spur her immune system to generate enough surface antibodies to register in a lab test. Continue reading "The Annual Hepatitis B Check-up: Facing Mortality and a Missing History"

Preparing for College, Dating and Disclosing Hepatitis B

Image courtesy of jesadaphorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of jesadaphorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When my daughter, who has chronic hepatitis B, packed for her freshman year of college, I peppered her with warnings about the need for standard precautions and condoms. I suggested wording for a future conversation where she would disclose her infection and negotiate safe sex with a potential partner.

I hoped these verbal dress rehearsals would empower and protect her, especially if that potential boyfriend turned her down. I wanted her to know that any rejection would not be about her or her hepatitis B, it would be about his fears. Continue reading "Preparing for College, Dating and Disclosing Hepatitis B"

Expert Calls for Viral Load Testing in All Pregnant Women with Hepatitis B

Dr. Ravi Jhaveri, an infectious disease specialist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, talks to parents.
Dr. Ravi Jhaveri, an infectious disease specialist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, talks to parents.

Today, all pregnant women are routinely screened for hepatitis B, but a growing number of doctors say this single test doesn’t go far enough to protect the health of women and children.

In a commentary published in the medical journal Pediatrics,  infectious disease specialist Dr. Ravi Jhaveri calls for a mandatory second test in pregnant women infected with hepatitis B. This test would measure the amount of hepatitis B virus (HBV) in her body (called viral load).

When women have high viral loads, their newborns can become infected even if they are immunized at birth and treated with HBIG (hepatitis B antibodies) to prevent infection. Continue reading "Expert Calls for Viral Load Testing in All Pregnant Women with Hepatitis B"

Four Things Fathers Affected by Hepatitis B Can Do for Themselves and Their Families

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Father’s Day, June 21, is a day to celebrate the contributions men make in their children’s lives. It’s also a good day for fathers to acknowledge how valuable they are to their families and how important it is to take care of their health.

Living with chronic hepatitis B can be challenging. Here are some things dads can do to take care of themselves or family members infected with hepatitis B.

1. Get outside and soak in some sunlight and some vitamin D. People with hepatitis B who have vitamin D deficiencies have higher rates of liver damage, cirrhosis and cancer. A healthy diet provides vitamin D, but 80 percent of our vitamin D comes from 15 minutes of exposure to sunlight two to three times a week. So get outside and walk, garden, exercise and soak in some healthy sunlight.

Continue reading "Four Things Fathers Affected by Hepatitis B Can Do for Themselves and Their Families"