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What are the Risks of Hepatitis B During Pregnancy?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 21 July 2018
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    Conjecture Corporation
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The primary risk of hepatitis B during pregnancy is the possibility of passing it to the baby, most commonly during delivery, when the baby comes into contact with blood and other bodily fluids from the mother. This infection can be hazardous to the health of the mother, potentially causing liver problems, and if a baby becomes infected, it is possible he might become a carrier unless provided with appropriate treatment. This infection is preventable with a vaccine.

If a pregnant woman has not yet been vaccinated against hepatitis B, she should be to prevent her baby from becoming infected, and use of this vaccine is not contraindicated during pregnancy. Women who are exposed to this virus during pregnancy can receive prophylactic treatment, including vaccination and a shot of hepatitis B immune globulin (H-BIG). If a pregnant woman tests positive for hepatitis B or knows she is a carrier, the risks should be discussed with her obstetrician to reduce the chance of passing it on to the baby.

Babies born to women who have hepatitis B during pregnancy can be treated to limit the possibility that they will become carriers. They should be given an H-BIG shot and a series of vaccinations starting immediately after birth and continuing at regular intervals. If a woman's hepatitis B status is unknown but she appears to be at risk, a doctor may recommend proceeding with prophylactic treatment anyway, just to be on the safe side.

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Women who have hepatitis B during pregnancy may be considered high risk and could need some specific monitoring for signs of complications related to the disease. Doctors may also discuss the possibility of delivering the baby via Caesarian section, as this can control the risks of infection and may preventing the baby from coming into contact with blood and fluids from the mother during the birth. Once a woman has delivered, hepatitis B does not appear to pose any risks with breastfeeding.

Hepatitis B during pregnancy has not been linked with issues like birth defects or low birth weight, but if the child becomes a carrier, it is possible to develop the disease and experience liver failure later in life, often in adolescence. Jaundice and other symptoms of liver disease will develop and medical treatment may be needed. Public health measures to educate women about getting vaccinated and addressing hepatitis B during pregnancy are designed to limit perinatal hepatitis B infections.

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