Also called serum hepatitis, hepatitis B is also a viral infection of the liver. The infection can lead to several problems of the liver including jaundice, liver damage, even progressing to liver failure, cirrhosis, chronic carrier state, cancer of the liver and other problems. Although the vehicles for transmission of the virus are often blood and blood products, the virus can be found in tears, saliva, breast milk, urine, semen and vaginal secretions. Babies can be infected by hepatitis B infected mothers at the time of birth. All pregnant women should be screened for hepatitis B during their pregnancy. Hepatitis B virus is capable of surviving for days on environmental surfaces exposed to hepatitis B infected body fluids. For these reasons hepatitis B is an important vaccine to be given to children.
The vaccine is given shortly after birth to prevent hepatitis B infections that can be acquired from the mother at birth or rarely, possibly even from the stay in the hospital. For this reason, it is important to get this vaccine shortly after birth. Delaying the vaccine until later may result in transmission of hepatitis B to the newborn, a disastrous event. The vaccine is quite safe and side effects are uncommon. Please see our schedule of immunizations regarding the timing of hepatitis B immunization.
View the CDC vaccine information sheet here: vis-hep-b.pdf