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  » Immunization Schedules  »  Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B

It is caused by a virus that affects the liver. Babies that get this disease may only have mild symptoms, or have no symptoms at all. However, many of these babies will go on to carry the virus in their bloodstream for many years and may then be able to pass it on to other people. As many as 25% of such hepatitis B carriers may develop liver cancer or liver failure later in life.

The hepatitis B virus is present in infected body fluids including blood, saliva and semen. Babies whose mothers have hepatitis B are at very high risk of being infected with the disease at birth. Other ways in which hepatitis B can be spread are by blood to blood contact, sharing of syringes, sexual contact, and contaminated instruments such as those used for body piercing. Immunisation has proven over many years to be a safe and cost effective way of preventing this disease.

Hepatitis B immunisation

For babies the first dose of hepatitis B is given soon after birth, the second at 2 months of age, the third at 4 months of age and the final dose at either 6 or 12 months of age to provide full protection. The last three doses of hepatitis B are given in combination vaccines, which means getting the vaccine does not mean extra injections. For adolescents who have not received the hepatitis B vaccine the first immunisation is given at 10 to 13 years of age, the second dose one month later and the third dose 5 months after the second. The vaccines contain a modified part of the hepatitis B virus. They are produced in yeast cells and are free of association with animal or human blood or blood products. The hepatitis B vaccine contains a small amount of aluminium salt. The monovalent Hepatitis B vaccine given at birth (to adolescents following the previous schedule) may contain thiomersal (a mercury containing preservative). However, there are two thiomersal-free vaccines now available.

Possible side effects of hepatitis B immunisation

Most side effects of hepatitis B vaccine are minor and disappear quickly. Soreness at the injection site may occur, as may mild fever, nausea, feeling unwell and joint pain. More serious side effects are extremely rare.