Babies born to a mother with hepatitis B have a greater than 90% chance of developing chronic hepatitis B if they are not properly treated at birth. It is very important that pregnant women know their hepatitis B status in order to prevent passing the virus on to their newborn baby during delivery. If your doctor is aware that you have hepatitis B, your doctor can prevent hepatitis B from transmitting to your baby by taking the right steps based on blood tests results and arranging to have the proper medications in the delivery room to prevent your baby from being infected.
ALL pregnant women should be tested for hepatitis B. Testing is especially important for women who fall into high-risk groups, such as health care workers, spouses or partners living with an infected person, etc. If you are pregnant, be sure your doctor tests you for hepatitis B before your baby is born, ideally as early as possible during the first trimester.
If you test positive for hepatitis B infection, then your newborn must be given proper prevention immediately in the delivery room:
- first dose of the hepatitis B vaccine (called “birth dose”)
- one dose of the Hepatitis B Immune Globulin (HBIG).*
* Note: HBIG is recommended by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the United States. HBIG is not recommended by World Health Organization (WHO), and may not be available in all countries. What is most important is to make sure the hepatitis B vaccine birth dose is given as soon as possible!
If these two medications are given correctly, a newborn born to a mother with hepatitis B has more than a 90% chance of being protected from a hepatitis B infection. You must make sure your baby receives the remaining shots of the vaccine series according to schedule to ensure complete protection.
The U.S. CDC states that the medications can be given within the first 12 hours of life, and the WHO states that the first dose of vaccine can be given within 24 hours. When this time and opportunity pass, there is no second chance to protect an infant. Therefore, health care professionals must properly administer the first dose of the hepatitis B vaccine immediately in the delivery room to avoid any delays or mistakes.
If you test positive for hepatitis B infection while pregnant, your doctor also should do a hepatitis B viral load blood test (HBV DNA) during your pregnancy. In some cases, the laboratory test results may show a very high viral load. In these cases, your physician may recommend that you take an oral antiviral drug in your third trimester to reduce the risk of infecting your newborn at birth. If the hepatitis B viral load test is not available, WHO recommends that pregnant women are tested for the hepatitis B e-antigen (HBeAg), and if positive, an antiviral is recommended during the last trimester. Regardless of viral load levels or HBeAg status, the first hepatitis B vaccine dose (birth dose) and remaining doses are essential to protect your infant from infection with the hepatitis B virus.