Protecting your baby from hepatitis B

Contemplative woman with babyHepatitis B is a contagious liver disease that is caused by an infection with the hepatitis B virus. “Hepatitis” means inflammation of the liver.

Hepatitis B is a sexually transmitted disease (STD). It spreads through direct contact with infected bodily fluids, like blood, saliva, semen and vaginal fluid. It can spread easily through breaks in the skin or in soft body tissues in the nose, mouth and eyes.

You can get hepatitis B if you:

  • Have unprotected sex with an infected partner.
  • Use street drugs and share needles with an infected person.
  • Share things like razors and toothbrushes with an infected person.
  • Come in contact with blood, open sores or body fluid from an infected person. This may happen if you work in a health care setting, like a hospital, doctor’s office or lab, or if you work in public safety, like as a police officer, firefighter or emergency medical technician (also called EMT).

Hepatitis B is NOT spread through sneezing, coughing, hugging or breastfeeding. Even though the virus can be found in saliva, you can’t get it from kissing or sharing forks, spoons, or knives with someone who’s infected.

If you don’t have hepatitis B, get vaccinated and ask your partner to get vaccinated, too. Vaccination is the best way to prevent hepatitis B.

Hepatitis B and pregnancy

If you have hepatitis B during pregnancy and it’s not treated, you can pass it to your baby. This can happen during a vaginal delivery or a c-section. About 9 out of 10 babies (90 percent) infected at birth develop chronic hepatitis B infection. This infection can cause life-long liver problems for your baby.

Getting tested for hepatitis B is a routine part of prenatal care. Your health care provider will test for hepatitis B and other infections at your first prenatal care checkup.

If you do test positive for hepatitis B, your health care provider may prescribe you an antiviral medication during your pregnancy. And soon after birth, your baby will receive 2 shots:

  • A Hepatitis B vaccination within 24 hours. She will then need two more doses in the first 18 months of life, which she can get through her well-baby checkups.
  • A Hepatitis B immune globulin (also called HBIG) shot within 12 hours of birth. HBIG is a type of antiviral that gives your baby extra help to fight off the infection

These shots help prevent your baby from getting hepatitis B. After your baby receives all of her hepatitis B shots, her health care provider will do a blood test to make sure the treatment worked. The blood test is usually done 1-2 months after the last shot, so make sure to follow up with your baby’s health care provider.

Have questions? Send them AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

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