Hepatitis B can be mild, without symptoms, or it may cause chronic hepatitis. When infants and young children acquire hepatitis B, they may sometimes be at high risk for chronic liver disease and liver failure.
Transmission of hepatitis B virus occurs through blood and body fluid exposure such as blood, semen, vaginal secretions or saliva. Infants may also develop the disease if they are born to a mother who has the virus. Infected children often spread the virus to other children if there is frequent contact (i.e., household contact) or a child has many scrapes or cuts.
Children who may be at risk for developing hepatitis B are listed below.
A vaccine for hepatitis B does exist and is now widely used for routine childhood immunization. Children currently receive the first vaccine between birth and 2 months, the second vaccine at 1 to 4 months and the third vaccine at 6 to 18 months. The vaccine is generally required for all children born on or after January 1, 1992, before they enter school. The vaccine is available for older children who may have not been immunized before 1992 and is recommended before age 11 or 12.
This form of hepatitis can only occur in the presence of hepatitis B. If an individual has hepatitis B and does not show symptoms or shows very mild symptoms, infection with D can put that person at risk for liver failure that progresses rapidly.
Hepatitis D can occur at the same time as the initial infection with B, or it may show up much later. Transmission of hepatitis D occurs the same way as hepatitis B, except the transmission from mother to baby is less common.
Hepatitis D is rare in children born in the U.S. due to the common use of hepatitis B vaccine in infancy.