Preventing Perinatal Hepatitis B Transmission
Hepatitis B is a significant global health threat and common in many parts of the world, with approximately 240 million worldwide infected, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Chronic hepatitis B infection causes an estimated 780,000 deaths worldwide each year. Many people with chronic hepatitis B were infected at birth or during early childhood, which increases the chance of a chronic, or lifelong, illness. Over time, chronic hepatitis B can cause serious health problems including liver cancer and liver failure.
Preventing Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B is spread when blood or other body fluids from an infected person enters the body of another person. A pregnant woman who has hepatitis B can pass the virus to her infant at birth without timely intervention. In fact, 90% of infected infants develop a lifelong infection, and an estimated one-fourth of them will die prematurely. To address this public health concern, all pregnant women in the United States and many other countries are now routinely screened for hepatitis B. If a pregnant woman has hepatitis B, health care providers take extra effort to make sure her newborn gets timely vaccination to prevent this deadly disease. Completing the vaccine series can prevent transmission of the virus in over 90% of infants born to infected women. To protect every infant from potential infection, CDC recommends all babies get the first shot in the hepatitis B vaccine series before leaving the hospital, and completing the vaccine series as recommended.
Vaccination is Saving Lives
In the United States and many parts of the world, widespread infant vaccination programs have led to dramatic declines of new hepatitis B cases. As of 2013, the World Health Organization reported that 183 Member States vaccinated infants against hepatitis B as part of their vaccination schedules, resulting in an average of 81% of children in these countries receiving the hepatitis B vaccine. This is a tremendous increase from the 31 countries who did in 1992, the year that the World Health Assembly passed a resolution to recommend global vaccination against hepatitis B. WHO estimates that since the introduction of routine infant vaccination in 1982, millions of premature deaths due to liver disease have been prevented.