Hepatitis B

IMMUNIZATIONS – SPECIFIC VACCINES

Hepatitis B (HBV)

Hepatitis B is a viral infection of the liver. It is mostly a disease of adolescents and adults, not children. It is usually spread by sexual contact or needle sharing among IV drug abusers. However, about 40% of adult cases have no such “risk factor” and therefore other forms of “close contact” are felt to spread it as well. All blood used for transfusion in this country has been screened for Hepatitis B for more than a decade now. Newborns can catch Hepatitis B from their mothers during either childbirth or breastfeeding.

In it’s initial phases, Hepatitis B causes jaundice, abdominal pain, fever, and vomiting. In most cases it resolves fully within several weeks without permanent damage. Sometimes it can quickly progress to complete liver failure, however, which can be fatal without a liver transplant. Other times a person may never fully recover and instead become a “chronic carrier” who can continue to both spread the disease and have low-grade liver inflammation (Chronic Active Hepatitis, CAH) for years until they slowly reach the point of liver failure.

CAH from Hepatitis B is the most common cause of adult liver failure in the U.S. today. The few children who contract Hepatitis B are less likely than adults to develop acute liver failure, or indeed to have symptoms at all -children get this illness less often, and are better at fighting it when they do than adults are. However, they are actually MORE likely to become chronic carriers and develop CAH, they can do so “silently”, and this will come back to “haunt” them many years later as adults.

We’ve had a Hepatitis B vaccine (HBV) for over twenty years. The original vaccine was made from blood products, and could theoretically have transmitted certain diseases as a result. However since the mid-1980’s HBV has been made using “recombinant DNA” technology rather than blood, and thus there is no longer any infectious risk at all. Other risks and side effects from HBV are very low. A few patients will have redness and swelling at the injection site. Another minor risk of HBV is an allergic reaction, which theoretically can happen with any medication.

For more information, please visit Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website at:

Hepatitis B (HBV): http://www.immunize.org/vis/hepb01.pdf