Hepatitis B is the most common liver virus in the world, and is prevalent amongst 1% of all Australians, according to the Australian Family Physician.

The virus is most commonly spread from mother to child at birth, so the experts at House Call Doctor have answered FAQs on what you should know about Hepatitis B and pregnancy.

What is hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is spread between people by contact with blood or other body fluids. In addition to perinatal transmission, it can also be transmitted via exposure to infected blood from an infected child to an uninfected child in their first 5 years of life. It is common in remote Aboriginal communities.

It is a major global health problem which can be potentially life-threatening and can put people at high risk of death from liver cancer if the infection becomes chronic.

Symptoms

Often, symptoms do not show when newly infected. Some symptoms, which may last several weeks, include:

  • Yellowing of skin and eyes
  • Dark urine
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain 

How likely is it that the infection becomes chronic?

This depends on the age of the person who becomes infected. Babies and young children are more likely to develop chronic hepatitis B, with 80–90% of infants infected during the first year of life developing chronic infections, compared to only 5% of infected adults developing a chronic infection.

How do I know if I have hepatitis B while pregnant?

A special blood test will screen hepatitis B, which is universally recommended for all pregnant women. This test is especially important for high-risk women, such as health care workers and those from communities where the virus is common.

A full course of the hepatitis B vaccination offers protection from the virus during pregnancy, and ultimately avoid passing on the virus to the newborn child.

What happens if I test positive to hepatitis B while pregnant?

To reduce risk of passing hepatitis B on to the child, the mother should be cared for by a team of doctors with expertise in infectious disease, who will treat accordingly.

In the delivery room, the newborn must be given two vaccinations immediately:

  • first dose of the hepatitis B vaccine
  • one dose of the Hepatitis B Immune Globulin (HBIG).

If these vaccinations are given correctly, the newborn will have over a 90% chance of being protected against chronic hepatitis B infection.