The preteen years are a time when young people try out new things. They start to become more independent. For these reasons, it's very important that you make sure your child has been vaccinated against hepatitis B (hep B). The hep B virus can be spread by having sex with an infected person without using a condom and by sharing infected needles. Even sharing a toothbrush or a razor can spread hep B.
Hepatitis B is a highly contagious, sexually transmitted infection. It's caused by a virus that attacks the liver. It can possibly cause lifelong liver infection, scarring of the liver, liver cancer, and death. In the U.S., hep B causes an estimated 2,000 to 4,000 deaths each year.
People of any age can become infected with hep B. Babies born to a person with hep B can become infected. Coming in contact with a small amount of blood or body fluids from an infected person can infect a person of any age who is not protected against hep B. The younger the person is at the time of infection, the greater the likelihood of staying infected with hep B and having lifelong liver problems.
The good news is that hep B can be prevented through vaccines.
These factors put a person at high risk for getting hep B:
Having unprotected sex
Having sex with more than one partner
Having another sexually transmitted infection
Using injected drugs or sharing drug paraphernalia such as straws
Using unsterilized needles when tattooing, ear-piercing, or body-piercing
Sharing personal items like razors or toothbrushes with an infected person
Sharing chewing gum with an infected person
Touching fresh skin breaks, cuts, burns, or blood of an infected person
Living with a long-term infected person
Working in a hospital or other healthcare facility where it's possible to come in contact with fresh skin breaks, cuts, burns, blood, or blood-contaminated body fluids
Pregnant people with hep B can infect their children during childbirth. Even though universal hep B screening is included in routine prenatal care, there are pregnant people who deliver babies and are unaware they are infected with hep B. Infected people can also pass the virus to their babies if they pre-chew food for them. This is why the hep B vaccine is given within the first few days of life.
Teens and young children who get hep B often have no signs. In some cases, they may have these symptoms:
Loss of appetite
Nausea or vomiting
Weakness or tiredness
Light-colored bowel movements
Yellow coloring to the skin and eyes
In the U.S., babies have been vaccinated against hep B since 1991. Health experts recommend the hep B vaccine for all babies and children who have not yet been vaccinated. They also recommend it for adults who are at high risk.
Talk with your child's healthcare provider about the hep B vaccine.