Hepatitis B is the most common liver infection in the world and is caused by the hepatitis B virus. The hepatitis B virus enters the body and travels to the liver via the bloodstream. In the liver, the virus attaches to healthy liver cells and multiplies. This replication of the virus then triggers a response from the body’s immune system. People are often unaware they have been infected with the hepatitis B at this stage.
Babies born to a mother with hepatitis B have a greater than 90% chance of developing chronic hepatitis B if they are not properly treated at birth. It is imperative for pregnant women to know their hepatitis B status in order to prevent passing the virus on to their newborn baby during delivery.
If your doctor is aware that you have hepatitis B, he or she can make arrangements to have the proper medications in the delivery room to prevent your baby from being infected.
ALL pregnant women should be tested for hepatitis B. Testing is especially important for women who fall into high-risk groups such as health care workers, women from ethnic communities where hepatitis B is common, spouses or partners living with an infected
person, etc. If you are pregnant, be sure your doctor tests you for hepatitis B before your baby is born, ideally as early as possible during the first trimester.
If you test positive for hepatitis B, your doctor should also test for the hepatitis B e-antigen (HBeAg), and if positive, you should have a viral load blood test.
In some cases, the laboratory test results may show a very high viral load. In these cases, your physician may recommend an oral antiviral drug in the third trimester to reduce the risk of infecting your newborn at birth.
If you test positive for hepatitis B, then your newborn must be given two injections immediately in the delivery room:
- first dose of the hepatitis B vaccine
- one dose of the Hepatitis B Immune Globulin (HBIG).
If these two medications are given correctly, a newborn has more than a 90% chance of being protected against a lifelong hepatitis B infection. You must make sure your baby receives the remaining injections in the series according to the immunisation schedule to ensure complete protection.