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Hepatitis B Prevention and Pregnancy

Division of Viral and Rickettsial Diseases
National Center for Infectious Diseases

July 1, 1994

A note from The field of medicine is constantly evolving. As a result, parts of this article may be outdated. Please keep this in mind, and be sure to visit other parts of our site for more recent information!

Table of Contents

What is hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a serious disease of the liver caused by hepatitis B virus, or HBV. All people, no matter how old they are or where they live, may be at risk for hepatitis B.

HBV attacks and destroys the liver, which is such an important organ that you cannot live without it.

Hepatitis B may cause

  • scarring (cirrhosis) of the liver
  • liver cancer
  • lifelong (chronic) HBV infection
  • liver failure
  • death

Why is hepatitis B a problem for pregnant women and their babies?

Pregnant women may have HBV in their blood without knowing it and can pass it on to their babies at birth. Many of these babies develop lifelong HBV infections and can pass the virus on to others throughout their lives. At first, babies may not look or feel sick, but as they grow up, they may have liver damage. About 25% of babies who develop lifelong HBV infections die of liver disease or liver cancer.

How can you get hepatitis B?

HBV is spread from person to person by direct contact with infected blood or body fluids. Even small amounts of infected blood can cause infection.

HBV infection can be spread by

  • an infected mother to her baby during birth
  • sharing needles for injecting drugs
  • having sex with an infected person

You are at increased risk for hepatitis B if

  • you live in the same household with someone who has lifelong HBV infection
  • you have a job that exposes you to human blood

If you feel healthy, can you still have hepatitis B?

Some people who have hepatitis B have no symptoms and may not know they are infected. Others who are infected with HBV never fully recover and carry the virus in their blood for the rest of their lives. These people are known as carriers, and they can infect other household and sexual contacts throughout their lives.

How do you find out if you have hepatitis B?

Get a blood test at your clinic or doctor's office. If the test is positive, the doctor or nurse will tell you how to take care of yourself and how to prevent infecting your baby and others.

How do you protect your baby if your hepatitis B blood test is positive?

A safe vaccine has been used since 1982 to prevent hepatitis B. The vaccine is given in a series of three shots. If you have HBV infection, your baby will get the first shot within 12 hours of birth, along with another shot, hepatitis B immune globulin. The next two shots of hepatitis B vaccine will be given along with other baby shots. All other members of your household should get a blood test for hepatitis B. If the blood test is negative, hepatitis B vaccine should be given to the other household members.

Do you need to protect your baby if the hepatitis B blood test is negative?

Hepatitis B vaccination is recommended for all infants to protect them from becoming infected with HBV. If your blood test for hepatitis B is negative, your baby will still receive the hepatitis B vaccine series with other baby shots, but will not need a shot of hepatitis B immune globulin. The baby may get the first shot either before leaving the hospital or with the first baby shots at the doctor's office or clinic. Ask your doctor or nurse when the next shots need to be given.

Protect Your Baby Against Hepatitis B

  • Get a blood test
  • Vaccinate your baby

For more information on hepatitis B and pregnancy

Contact your local health department or call the CDC Hepatitis Hotline (404) 332-4555. Hepatitis Branch Division of Viral and Rickettsial Diseases, National Center for Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia 30333.

Point of Contact for this Document:

To request a copy of this document or for questions concerning this document, please contact the person or office listed below. If requesting a document, please specify the complete name of the document as well as the address to which you would like it mailed. Note that if a name is listed with the address below, you may wish to contact this person via CDC WONDER/PC e-mail.

CDC (NCID) John O'Connor
1600 Clifton Rd. NE MS(A-30)
Atlanta, GA 30333

A note from The field of medicine is constantly evolving. As a result, parts of this article may be outdated. Please keep this in mind, and be sure to visit other parts of our site for more recent information!

  • Email Email
  • Printable Single-Page Print-Friendly
  • Glossary Glossary

This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
See Also
Talk to a Physician About HIV/Hepatitis Coinfection in Our "Ask the Experts" Forums
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