Virus name: Hepatitis B Virus (HBV)
Size and Shape: 42nm isometric nucleocapsid
Genome:partially double stranded DNA
Human disease: Hepatitis B
Vaccine: Hepatitis B vaccine
Hepatitis B is a virus that gets into the body most commonly though blood, meaning that an infected person’s blood containing the virus has to get into your body for you to get infected. That being said, IV drug users are most at risk for getting hepatitis B, and I suspect your baby isn’t an IV drug user. However, the virus is also present in semen, saliva, milk, vaginal and menstral secretions, as well as in amniotic fluid. Any of these fluids HAS the potential to infect should your child come in contact with them. This means that you can get the virus through sexual contact, and babies can be given hepatitis B at birth. However, your child cannot get the virus by sharing eating utensils, breastfeeding, hugging, kissing, holding hands, or inhaling particles from coughing or sneezing.2
If the virus should enter your child’s body it will go immediately to the liver and start to reproducing little copies of itself. These copies accumulate without the infected child even knowing that he’s infected.
Somewhere between six weeks and six months, you may notice your child displaying symptoms of the virus. Here are some of the things you may notice:
- General tiredness
- Lack of appetite
- Nausea/vomiting/abdominal pain
- Dark colored urine
- Clay-colored poop
- Joint pain
- Yellowing of the skin/eyes.
Some, all, or none of these symptoms may arise and may last for several weeks, but can linger for six months.2 Many young children (especially newborns), however, do not show symptoms of the disease. Even if a child is infected and showing no symptoms, he can still spread the virus to others.
Who is at Risk:
According to the Hepatitis B foundation, anyone can get hepatitis B, however these are the groups who are at higher risk for contracting the virus:
- Healthcare providers and emergency responders
- Sexually active heterosexuals (more than 1 partner in the past six months)
- Men who have sex with men
- Individuals diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease (STD)
- Illicit drug users (injecting, inhaling, snorting, pill popping)
- Sex contacts or close household members of an infected person
- Children adopted from countries where hepatitis B is common (Asia, Africa, South America, Pacific Islands, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East)
- Families of children adopted from the countries listed above
- Individuals emigrating from countries where hepatitis B is common (see above)
- Individuals born to parents who have emigrated from countries where hepatitis B is common (see above)
- ALL pregnant women
- Recipients of a blood transfusion before 1992
- Kidney dialysis patients and those in early renal failure
- Inmates of a correctional facility
- Staff and clients of institutions for the developmentally disabled
- Any individual who may have other risk factors not included on this list
Most of the people with long-lasting hepatitis B throughout the world were infected in the first few years of life.2
The younger a child is when infected with hepatitis B, the more likely it is that he develop a long-lasting infection. “Approximately 90% of infected infants will develop chronic (long-lasting) infection. The risk goes down as the child gets older,” CDC. Liver scaring, liver failure, and liver cancer are potential serious and long-lasting effects of hepatitis B.
Hepatitis B is the cause in 80% of liver cancer cases worldwide.1
Pregnancy/unborn child/newborn concerns:
It’s great to start thinking about your child’s vaccinations even before your child is born. During pregnancy, if you are receiving proper care, you will be tested for hepatitis B (along with many, many other things). If you find that you have the virus in your body, don’t immediately assume the worst. Here’s what you need to know:
Pregnant women who have the virus already in their body can pass hepatitis B on to their baby during birth. However, this can be prevented by vaccinating your baby with HepB along with a dose of Hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG) within at least 12 hours of birth. The HBIG contains antibodies to the virus given because your baby’s immune system doesn’t have time to make them to fight the virus off once it has potentially been infected at birth. After all of these precautions, your baby is almost always protected from the disease. If your newborn does not receive the vaccination, he could develop a long-lasting infection and serious health complications–90% of infected, non-vaccinated babies do.2 However, don’t fret; if you are receiving proper care, your child will get the both shots at birth and be hepatitis B free!
The CDC recommends that all children get the first dose of hepB at birth, and then get 2 more doses over the next six-month period. After getting at least three doses, the vaccine yields greater than 90% protection against hepatitis B when exposed to the virus after the completion of the entire series of vaccinations.2
Hepatitis B cannot be cured with medication, and children who get hepatitis B often need to be hospitalized.
Usually the symptoms of the illness go away after a few weeks and the liver returns to normal in about 4-6 months. However, almost all newborns and many children who contract hepatitis B develop a chronic condition.
Somewhere around 1 in 100 people will die from hepatitis B once they contract it. And for those living with the chronic disease, they have a much higher chance of developing liver cancer.
Pictures are Vaccine Mom original Art.