Hepatitis Virus During Pregnancy
What is the Hepatitis B Infection?
Hepatitis B is a serious viral infection that affects the liver and can cause long-term illness. Hepatitis spreads by contact with body fluids such as blood and semen. A pregnant woman who has hepatitis B may transmit it to her baby at birth. Infection in a baby can be very severe and even life-threatening.
What is the Difference Between Acute and Chronic Hepatitis B?
There are 2 forms of the hepatitis B infection, acute and chronic. The acute form lasts a few weeks and symptoms usually develop within 6 months of exposure to the virus. Symptoms include lethargy, loss of appetite, stomach pain, nausea and vomiting, jaundice (yellow discolouration of the skin and eyes) and joint pains. Once the infection has resolved, you develop immunity against it.
Children below the age of 5 and certain adults can develop the chronic form of hepatitis. They usually do not have immediate symptoms, but the virus remains in them for the rest of their lives and they are referred to as carriers. Chronic hepatitis B can later lead to liver cirrhosis, liver cancer and early demise. The acute form of hepatitis B is more likely to spread from mother to baby, while the chronic form is only transmitted in 10% to 20% of cases.
What are the Precautions to be Taken to Prevent Hepatitis B infection during Pregnancy?
All pregnant women are normally tested for hepatitis B infection and vaccinated if necessary. There are different tests that can determine whether you have the infection or have had it in the past, if you are a carrier or if you are immune.
If you have not received the vaccination and have been exposed to hepatitis B, your doctor will recommend an injection of hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG) along with a vaccination.
If you test positive, your doctor will examine your general health and liver function. Family members are advised about the testing and vaccinations. A hepatitis B infection will not affect your delivery. It is also safe to breastfeed, as the disease does not spread in this way.
How are Babies Normally Protected against Hepatitis B?
All babies normally receive their first dose of hepatitis vaccination before leaving the hospital or within the first 2 months of birth, with subsequent doses in the next 6-18 months.
What are the Measures taken to Protect your Baby if you have Hepatitis B?
To protect your baby, the first dose of the hepatitis vaccine and HBIG are both administered a few hours after birth. Two more doses of the vaccine are given within the next 6 months and your baby is then tested. If infected, your baby would require ongoing medical care with regular medical visits to check their health and liver function.