Speaking at the Global Hepatitis Summit in Toronto, professor Harry Janssen, director of the Toronto Centre for Liver Disease, said vaccination at birth was the best way to protect children from Hepatitis B.
His advice echoes recommendations by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that all babies should receive their first dose of vaccine as soon as possible after birth, preferably within 24 hours.
But according to Nursing Times Professor Janssen noted that many countries, including the UK, only give the birth dose of the vaccine for children born to mothers infected with hepatitis B.
“The best way to protect all children from potential infection with the Hepatitis B virus is with a vaccination with 24 hours of birth, as recommended by WHO,” professor Janssen said.
“There is a misconception that we only need to offer older children vaccination in the years before they become sexually active, since sexual activity is one of the routes of transmission,” he said.
“However, all babies and young children face other risks of blood to blood transmission from the moment they are born,” he said.
“This can happen through household contacts, at school playing together with other children and in many other places.”
At the moment in the Hepatitis B vaccination is routinely available as part of the NHS vaccination schedule. But it is only offered to babies at 8, 12 and 16 weeks of age.
That’s something professor Janssen would like to see change.
“Why leave any babies exposed, even for eight weeks?” he said. “If eventually all children will be offered this vaccine anyway in most developed countries, why don’t we end the lottery and ensure they are protected from birth, when potential infection has the worst impact?”
What is Hepatitis B?
According to the NHS Hepatitis B is an infection of the liver caused by a virus that’s spread through blood and body fluids.
“It often doesn’t cause any obvious symptoms in adults and typically passes in a few months without treatment. But in children, it often persists for years and may eventually cause serious liver damage,” the site reads.
According to recent statistics by the British Liver Trust approximately 180,000 people are thought to be chronically infected with hepatitis B in the UK.
In some inner-city areas, with a high percentage of people from parts of the world where the virus is common, as many as one in 60 pregnant women may be infected.
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