Congenital Hepatitis B Symptoms & Causes

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In-Depth

At Children’s Hospital Boston, we understand that you may have a lot of questions when your child is diagnosed with congenital hepatitis B, such as:

  • What exactly is it?
  • How did he get it?
  • What are potential complications in my child’s case?
  • What are our treatment options?
  • How will it affect my child long term?

We’ve tried to provide some answers to those questions here, and when you meet with our experts, we can explain your child’s condition and treatment options fully.

Background
A baby may contract a hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection in the uterus if the mother has hepatitis B and passes it through her bloodstream to the baby.

·         The developing fetus is especially vulnerable to illness because its immune system is not yet strong enough to permanently fight off infection.

Since a baby in utero cannot completely get rid of an infection, HBV remains in the body, and can lead to a hepatitis B infection, which may damage your baby’s liver and cause lifelong health problems.

Causes

A pregnant woman who has hepatitis B can pass it on to her unborn child.

How is hepatitis B spread?
HBV can be transmitted through blood, semen, vaginal secretions, or saliva.

  • HBV can also be spread from a pregnant mother to her fetus through the bloodstream.

What is the likelihood that my baby will get hepatitis B?
If you have hepatitis B, the chances are high that your baby will also have it. That’s why it’s important to have your baby vaccinated within 12 hours after birth.

Symptoms

Most babies born with hepatitis B never develop symptoms, but the virus can still be causing internal damage to the liver.

If your child has symptoms, they may include the following:

  • jaundice
  • pain in the abdomen
  • dark urine
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea and vomiting

Long-term outlook

If your baby develops chronic hepatitis B, she may eventually require a course of antiviral medications or even a liver transplant. Children born with hepatitis B are also at greater risk for liver cancer and cirrhosis (scarring) later in life.

Questions to ask your doctor

If you’re worried about hepatitis B or are already infected, you may have many questions about how it can affect your baby.

You may find it helpful to jot down questions as they arise—that way, when you talk to your doctor, you can be sure that all of your concerns are addressed.

Here are some questions to get you started:

  • I’m planning to have a baby. Should I get vaccinated?
  • How can I reduce my exposure to the hepatitis B virus?
  • What can I do to prevent infection if I’m exposed?
  • Is there any way to prevent passing hepatitis B on to my baby?
  • What steps can we take if my baby does get infected?
  • What’s the long-term outlook for a baby born with hepatitis B?

Prevention

Although there is no cure for hepatitis B, there is an effective vaccine that can help prevent infection. It’s typically given as a series of three injections over six months and there’s no chance you’ll get the virus from the vaccine.

  • If you’re planning on becoming pregnant, ask your doctor about receiving the vaccine for hepatitis B.

Is the vaccine dangerous?

A vaccine, like any medication, is capable of causing serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions. But the risk of hepatitis B vaccine causing serious harm, or death, is extremely small; the vaccine is much safer than contracting the disease which it prevents, and most people who receive the vaccine do not have any problems with it.

FAQ

Q: What is hepatitis B?

A: Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver that is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV).

Q: Why is hepatitis B a problem?

A: HBV can be spread from a pregnant mother to her fetus through the bloodstream.

  • If your baby is infected, she may have life-long liver problems, such as scarring of the liver and liver cancer.

Q: What are the chances my baby will be born with hepatitis B?

A: If you have hepatitis B, the chances are high that your baby will also have it. That’s why it’s important to have your baby vaccinated within 12 hours after birth.

Q: How can congenital hepatitis B be prevented?

A: Although there is no cure for hepatitis B, there is an effective vaccine that can help prevent infection. It’s typically given as a series of three injections over six months and there’s no chance you’ll get the virus from the vaccine.

  • If you’re planning on becoming pregnant, ask your doctor about receiving the vaccine for hepatitis B.

Q: Is the vaccine dangerous?

A: A vaccine, like any medication, is capable of causing serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions. But the risk of hepatitis B vaccine causing serious harm, or death, is extremely small; the vaccine is much safer than contracting the disease which it prevents, and most people who receive the vaccine do not have any problems with it.

Q: How is congenital hepatitis B diagnosed?

A: A simple blood test can check for the presence of the virus in your child’s bloodstream. However, if you have hepatitis B, it’s very likely that your baby will be born with it. That’s why it’s important that your baby receive hepatitis B immune globulin and the HBV vaccine in the first twelve hours after birth.

Q: What symptoms might my baby have?

A: Most babies born with hepatitis B never develop symptoms, but the virus can still be causing internal damage to the liver.

If your child has symptoms, they may include the following:

  • jaundice
  • pain in the abdomen
  • dark urine
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea and vomiting

Q: What are our treatment options?

A: If a mother is known to have HBV, her newborn baby should receive hepatitis B immune globulin and the HBV vaccine in the first twelve hours after birth.

Q: What is my child’s long-term outlook?

A: If your baby develops chronic hepatitis B, she may eventually require a course of antiviral medications or even a liver transplant. Children born with hepatitis B are also at greater risk for liver cancer and cirrhosis (scarring) later in life.

Q: What makes Children’s different?

A: Our physicians are expert, compassionate and committed to focusing on the whole child, not just his condition—that’s one reason we’re frequently ranked as a top pediatric hospital in the United States.

Physicians and researchers in our Division of Infectious Diseases are constantly learning more about how diseases develop and spread as well as how the body uses its defenses to fight back. 

And at Children’s, we consider you and your child integral parts of the care team and not simply recipients of care. You and your care team will work together to customize a plan of care for your child.

Top Ranking

U.S. News & World Report ranks Boston Children's Hospital #1 in more specialties than any other pediatric hospital in the United States.

We are grateful to have been ranked #1 on U.S. News & World Report's list of the best children's hospitals in the nation for the third year in a row, an honor we could not have achieved without the patients and families who inspire us to do our very best for them. Thanks to you, Boston Children's is a place where we can write the greatest children's stories ever told.”
- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO

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