This article highlights a specific type of hepatitis that is important to know about during pregnancy – hepatitis B.
What is hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is a virus that infects the liver. Although hepatitis B is most often a silent infection, over time it can cause serious liver damage and liver cancer. Sometimes the infection continues for years without signs of illness. This is why it is called a silent infection. Silent infections are dangerous because they don’t seem serious until the damage to the body already is done.
Why should a pregnant woman be tested for hepatitis B?
If you are pregnant and have hepatitis B but don’t know it, you can give it to your baby during birth. Because of this, every woman should be tested for hepatitis B during every pregnancy. If you do have hepatitis B, there is a simple and effective way to avoid giving it to your baby.
Why should I be concerned about giving this infection to my newborn baby?
Hepatitis B can be transferred to your baby during birth. This is a problem because when babies are infected, they have a high risk of lifelong infection that causes liver disease or cancer. In fact, if an infant is not protected during birth, the infant has a 90 percent chance of developing lifelong infection. And even more importantly, 25 percent of those who develop lifelong hepatitis B die a premature death from liver disease or liver cancer.
How can I prevent giving this infection to my newborn baby?
The good news is that there are steps you can take to protect your baby and your family from getting infected. These steps are:
• Get tested during pregnancy
• If the test shows that you are hepatitis B infected, your baby should get
1) Hepatitis B Immunoglobulin (HBIG) at birth
2) Hepatitis B Vaccine at birth
• Make sure your baby completes all hepatitis B vaccine doses
• Make sure your baby is tested after the final dose of hepatitis B vaccine. This will confirm that the vaccine worked.
Are there treatments for Hepatitis B?
There are treatments for hepatitis B that can help your liver stay healthy. See a doctor regularly so that you know your options.
For more information about hepatitis B, talk to your doctor. You can also find information at the Minnesota Department of Health website at www.health.state.mn.us/hepatitis .