Viral hepatitis is a major health problem in developing and developed countries. Five viruses are known to cause hepatitis – A, B, C, D and E. Hepatitis B probably accounts for about a third of all cases in children.

Hepatitis B is a highly contagious disease that attacks the liver. About 80,000 new cases are reported per year in the U.S., as of 1999. One especially dangerous characteristic of the disease is that a child can contract it and not become very ill until some time later, when chronic liver problems, including cirrhosis, chronic persistent or active hepatitis, or cancer, develop.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics have recommended vaccination of all infants for hepatitis B shortly after birth.
The vaccine is given in three doses beginning shortly after birth (preferably before hospital discharge), with a second dose one to two months later, and a booster at six to 18 months of age. Older children, adolescents and adults should also be immunized, especially if they are at increased risk for infection. Protection against hepatitis B is likely to last about 10 years.

There have been no serious reactions to the vaccine, though minor side effects, such as fussiness, soreness, redness, or swelling at the site of the injection can occur.

If your baby has not been immunized, ask your doctor about the vaccine, and take the necessary steps to avoid this dangerous illness.

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