Hepatitis B and Childbirth
A woman who is chronically infected with hepatitis B cannot infect her baby in the womb during gestation. The hepatitis B virus also cannot be spread through breast feeding or saliva. However, during labor, the newborn will come into contact with the mother’s blood and be exposed to the virus, risking infection. Precautions do exist to help protect these babies from contracting the virus at this time, with great results.
Every year in the United States, over 24,000 infants are born to mothers who are chronically infected. If measures are not taken to protect these newborns, 10% of them will contract the virus. Because of their undeveloped immune systems, only 10% of those infected will be able to clear the disease, meaning approximately 90% may become chronically infected and be put at lifelong risk for liver cancer or cirrhosis, making it vitally important to prevent infection during childbirth. In comparison, only about 2-6% of adults who contract the virus will develop a chronic infection. The others will suffer from the acute disease and its symptoms for up to six months, and then will clear the virus and gain immunity. At the Perinatal Hepatitis B Program, we make sure that all babies born to HBV positive mothers are given the proper treatments to prevent infection from the exposure to the virus during birth.
As part of the recommended immunization schedule for infants, most all babies born in the United States are routinely given a dose of Hepatitis B vaccine the day they are born, and will receive 2-3 more doses throughout infancy. This is enough to ensure lifelong protection from the virus. For babies born to HBV positive mothers, it is especially important that babies receive their first dose within 12 hours of birth. Additionally, these babies will receive a shot of Hepatitis B Immunoglobulin (also called HBIG), which provides the infant with immediate protection from the virus by helping their immune system prevent infection. Our program ensures that both mothers and the birthing hospitals they visit know about these safety measures and implement them in a timely manner to protect the baby.
We work with all of the birthing hospitals in Alameda County, two of which, Eden Medical Center and St. Rose Hospital, are even highlighted on the Hepatitis B Birth Dose Honor Roll put forth by the Immunization Action Coalition.