Hepatitis B: Can a newborn contract it from father?

My husband is a Hepatitis B carrier. What's the chance of my new born contracting Hepatitis B?

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Robert Steele

Robert W. Steele, MD, is a board certified pediatrician at St. John's Regional Health Center in Springfield, MO. He graduated from medical... Read more

Hepatitis B is a virus which can cause a wide range of symptoms ranging from having no symptoms whatsoever to nausea and feeling run-down to fatal inflammation of the liver. Many people who contract this virus eventually successfully get rid of the virus from their bodies. However, there are some people who never completely eradicate the virus from the body and thus become chronic carriers of hepatitis B virus.

For reasons not well understood, children, particularly infants who acquire this virus are at increased risk for becoming chronic carriers. And chronically infected persons are at a higher risk for developing chronic liver disease and liver cancer later in life. It is for these reasons that is recommended that all infants, children, and adolescents receive the Hepatitis B vaccine.

This virus is transmitted primarily through body fluids although transmission may occur from person-to-person contact of members in the same household or institution. Therefore, transmission may occur from transfusion of blood or blood products (although this is rare in the United States due to current testing/screening), sharing needles or syringes, and sexual contact. However, the virus may be found in small quantities in the saliva which is presumably the cause of transmission between family members.

Protection from the virus is acquired by getting the vaccine. This vaccine is given in three separate shots administered over six months. However, an additional medication called Hepatitis B immunoglobulin may be given to those who have recently been exposed to the virus. This includes babies who are born to mothers who have Hepatitis B. Therefore, it is important for pregnant women to be tested for this virus prior to birth of the baby so that the Hepatitis B immunoglobulin may be given to the baby in a timely fashion shortly after birth.

Of note, there are two instances in which research has shown the risk of getting hepatitis B seems to be minimal: Breastfeeding from mothers known to have Hepatitis B does not increase the risk of transmission to the infant. However, it is recommended that these infants receive the Hepatitis B immunoglobulin in addition to the vaccine. And day-care settings do not seem to be a place where Hepatitis B is readily transmitted.

Because there is a household contact with chronic hepatitis B infection, your infant does have a risk of acquiring the disease. However, this risk may be minimized by receiving both the Hepatitis B vaccine and the Hepatitis B immunoglobulin. In addition, you should consider receiving the vaccine yourself if you have not already done so.

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