Hepatitis B immune globulin is a treatment given once after initial exposure to hepatitis B, to prevent people from contracting the illness. This single shot is administered into the thigh muscle and is considered a prophylactic treatment. This means it fights off a hepatitis B infection before it can establish itself in the body, and in this respect it is relatively effective, provided people get the shot within a couple of weeks of being exposed to the virus. This shot doesn’t provide lasting immunity to this serious illness that affects the liver, so people frequently get another shot at the same time — a vaccination that confers more lasting protection against future exposures.
Some people express concern about using hepatitis B immune globulin because it is made from blood proteins, which might elevate risk for other diseases like HIV. It is true that an immune globulin shot carries a tiny risk, since proteins from the shot do come from human blood plasma. It’s important to note there has never been a case of HIV/AIDs transmission from anyone receiving hepatitis B immune globulin prophylaxis. This doesn’t make it impossible, but it does suggest that transfer of the virus is highly unlikely. Moreover, risks versus benefits must be weighed, and hepatitis B can be a chronic illness affecting the liver that is life-altering too.
With hepatitis B immune globulin, the fact that it comes from blood plasma is what makes it so effective. It is collected from blood that has extremely high presence of antibodies against the illness. When these antibodies are injected into another person, they begin fighting and destroying viral cells. This can effectively halt development of the disease, and keep people from ever manifesting it from the particular exposure they’ve received. Long-term vaccination is still recommended if exposure will continue, such as if a person has a sexual partner or very close family member with the virus.
There are many circumstances under which hepatitis B immune globulin might be recommended. Direct exposure through sexual activity or exchange of body fluids with a person with hepatitis B would suggest getting this treatment. Infants often get this shot too, if their mother has the illness. Any time a person has exposure to body fluids (urine, feces, blood or saliva) of someone who is infected, which may especially occur in medical settings, they might require hepatitis B immune globulin prophylaxis.
Shots containing hepatitis B immune globulin tend to be contraindicated in pregnancy as potentially harmful to fetuses, so it’s highly advisable for people at high risk for exposure, like health care workers, to be immunized against hepatitis B prior to pregnancy. Shots may come with side effects too, including soreness at the injection site, aching in the back or aches that spread more profusely throughout the body, and some nausea. Less often, people experience more persistent nausea, pain in the stomach, stomach upset, exhaustion, rash on the skin or joint pain. Any symptoms of concern should be reported to a doctor.