Hepatitis B infection is a potentially serious condition. According to a new American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) policy, newborns should now get their first hepatitis B vaccine in their first day of life.
Although most people consider the vaccine to be crucial to the safety of a child, others oppose it. In many cases, this opposition is due to misinformation or concern for the child.
Why is it recommended?
The AAP recommend that newborns receive their first dose of the hepatitis B vaccine within the first 24 hours of their life.
One reason for this is that it is possible for the birth mother to pass the infection onto the baby, which is known as a perinatal infection.
If a newborn contracts hepatitis B, there is a significant chance that this infection will be chronic, meaning that it will persist for a long time.
Without treatment, it is possible that the infant will die from complications of the infection.
Benefits of the hepatitis B vaccine
The main benefit of the vaccine is its effectiveness. The AAP note that if doctors give the first dose of the hepatitis B vaccine within 24 hours of the baby’s delivery, it is 75 to 95 percent effective in preventing the passage of hepatitis B from the birth mother to the baby.
If the newborn also receives the medication hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG) at the correct time and a series of follow-up vaccines, the AAP estimate that the infection rate drops to between 0.7 and 1.1 percent.
For the best possible protection, the baby will need to complete the full series of vaccines.
The main risk of the baby not getting the vaccine is that they may contract the hepatitis B virus.
Hepatitis B primarily attacks the liver, causing inflammation that can damage this organ over time. An acute infection lasts for less than 6 months, and it may cause no symptoms in some people.
Other people do experience symptoms, which may include:
- loss of appetite
- pain in the muscles
- pain in the joints
- general fatigue
Many acute infections resolve without treatment. If the infection persists for 6 months or more, doctors will refer to it as chronic. Chronic infections increase a person’s risk of damage to the liver over time.
As this damage builds up, it can scar the liver, which is known as cirrhosis. This long-term damage may result in other complications, including liver cancer.
According to the Immunization Action Coalition, about 3,000 Americans die each year from liver failure or liver cancer resulting from hepatitis B.
Experts consider the hepatitis B vaccine to be safe and effective.
People should ideally receive the vaccine at as young an age as possible to protect them from contracting hepatitis B. The AAP recommend vaccinating newborns on the day of their birth. Although most pregnant women receive testing for hepatitis B as part of their prenatal care, the test can occasionally give a false negative result.
There is no cure for hepatitis B. Even people who recover from the infection may have a higher risk of health complications later in life. The CDC conclude that vaccination is the best way to prevent hepatitis B.
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