Hepatitis B is a serious infection of the liver. It is caused by the hepatitis B virus. It can be mild and short-term. Or it may be long-term and lead to chronic liver disease and liver failure in infants and young children.
The hepatitis B virus is spread from person to person through blood and body fluids, such as blood, semen, vaginal secretions, or saliva. Infants may also get 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. People who are likely to be exposed to hepatitis B are:
Babies born to mothers who have hepatitis B
Babies born to mothers who have come from a country where hepatitis B is widespread, such as southeast Asia and China
People in long-term care
People who live with someone with the virus
People who need kidney dialysis
People who use IV drugs, have many sex partners, or have unprotected sex
About one-third of people with hepatitis B in the U.S. have an unknown source.
The younger the person, the greater the likelihood of staying infected with hepatitis B and having life-long liver problems. These can include scarring of the liver and liver cancer.
The hepatitis B vaccine is widely used for routine childhood immunization. Children get the first shot between birth and 2 months. The second shot is given at 1 to 4 months and the third shot at 6 to 18 months. The vaccine prevents hepatitis B infection.