What to Do If Your Child Is Exposed to Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a vaccine-preventable disease.

“In the United States, based on national health surveys, there are approximately 850,000 persons living with chronic HBV infection. However, estimates based on other methods and data yield estimates as high as 1.29 to 2.2 million persons with chronic HBV infection.”

Manual for the Surveillance of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

That doesn’t mean that your child can’t be exposed at some point though.

What to Do If Your Child Is Exposed to Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is mainly spread through blood and body fluids, which is why some folks consider the hepatitis B vaccine an STD vaccine.

“If you are concerned that you might have been exposed to the Hepatitis B virus, call your health professional or your health department. If a person who has been exposed to Hepatitis B virus gets the Hepatitis B vaccine and/or a shot called “HBIG” (Hepatitis B immune globulin) within 24 hours, Hepatitis B infection may be prevented.”

CDC on Hepatitis B FAQs for the Public

It is also possible to get hepatitis B from exposure from an infected family member or caretaker, or much more rarely, in a daycare or school setting.

So what do you do if your child is exposed to hepatitis B?

It depends.

Kids should complete the three dose hepatitis B vaccine series by the time they are 18 months old.
Kids should complete the three dose hepatitis B vaccine series by the time they are 18 months old.

Not surprisingly, one of the biggest factors that will determine what needs to be done is whether or not your child has completed a three dose hepatitis B vaccine series.

First things first though.

Before going any further, you will want to confirm that the person that exposed your child actually has hepatitis B (has a positive HBsAg level).

Next, confirm that it was a real exposure, which the AAP Red Book defines as “a discrete, identifiable percutaneous (eg, needlestick, laceration, bite or nonintact skin), mucosal (eg, ocular or mucous membrane), or sexual exposure to blood or body fluids.”

Keep in mind that the hepatitis B virus is not spread by casual contact, like hugging, kissing, holding hands, or even sharing silverware. It can be spread by having unprotected sex or sharing needles with someone who is infected, but also by coming into contact with open sores, getting bitten, sharing personal-care items, sharing chewing gum, or an unintentional needle stick at a doctor or dentist office or from a needle picked up in the community (park, playground, or street, etc.).

And of course, a newborn baby can be exposed if their mother has hepatitis B.

Biting and Hepatitis B

Young kids, especially toddlers, often go through a biting phase.

Do you have to worry about hepatitis B every time your child gets bit or bites someone?

Fortunately, no.

If any of the kids involved include one that is known to have hepatitis B, then talk to your pediatrician and follow the exposure guidelines.

Keep in mind that one of the reasons we don’t have to worry about these very low risk situations is because most kids are now vaccinated. There were more reports of kids and adults getting hepatitis B in unusual ways in the pre-vaccine era.

What to Do If Your Unvaccinated Child Is Exposed to Hepatitis B

If your unvaccinated child, or incompletely vaccinated child, is exposed to hepatitis B, you should talk to your pediatrician or local health department about starting post-exposure prophylaxis as soon as possible and preferably within 24 hours of the exposure (and not longer than 7), including:

  • a dose of HBIG
  • the first dose of hepatitis B vaccine, with plans to complete the three dose series as quickly as possible over the next 6 months

If you aren’t sure if the person had hepatitis B, then your unvaccinated child should likely just complete the three dose hepatitis B series without getting HBIG.

What to Do If Your Vaccinated Child Is Exposed to Hepatitis B

Unfortunately, if your vaccinated child is exposed to hepatitis B, you can’t simply assume that your child is protected and ignore the exposure. That is, unless your child has already had testing to confirm that he was a responder to the hepatitis B vaccine series – a HBsAb level of 10 or greater.

Since this titer test isn’t routinely done, your child will likely need a booster dose of the hepatitis B vaccine. A dose of HBIG isn’t needed.

If you aren’t sure if the person that exposed your child had hepatitis B, then your fully vaccinated child doesn’t need any additional treatment.

Getting Exposed to Hepatitis B in a Healthcare Setting

It should be noted that the guidelines are a little different and more aggressive if you are exposed in a healthcare setting vs your child having a nonoccupational exposure to hepatitis B.

Why?

There is probably more risk of getting infected from an occupational exposure where patients might be sick with hepatitis B. That’s why post-exposure testing on the exposed person is routinely done.

And since they are at risk for continued exposures, post-treatment testing, if required, to confirm a good response to the hepatitis B vaccine is also usually done.

What to Know About Getting Exposed to Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B exposures can come from more than just having sex or getting stuck with a needle. Learn what to do if your child is exposed to hepatitis B, especially if they aren’t already fully vaccinated and protected.

More on Getting Exposed to Hepatitis B

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