What Is Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is a disease caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). This virus attacks the liver. The disease can cause:
HBV is spread through the blood or other body fluids of an infected person.
Most hepatitis B infections clear up without treatment. Others develop into chronic hepatitis B. This can lead to serious complications, even death.
What Is the Hepatitis B Vaccine?
The hepatitis B vaccine is produced by inserting a gene for HBV into yeast. The yeast is grown, harvested, and purified. The vaccine is given as an injection into the muscle. This is usually given in a series of 3-4 shots during a 6-month period.
Who Should Get Vaccinated and When?
Newborns routinely receive the first dose of the hepatitis B vaccine before leaving the hospital. Two more injections are given to all infants at:
- 1-2 months
- 6-18 months
Depending on the type of vaccine, some babies may receive 4 doses.
Children and teens (aged 18 years or younger) who have not been immunized as babies can also get the vaccine. For children aged 11-15 years, there is a two-dose series available, called Recombivax HB.
It is recommended that adults (aged 18 years or older) get vaccinated if they are at high risk for hepatitis B. High risk includes:
- Having multiple sex partners
- Getting treatment or counseling for a sexually transmitted disease (STD)
- Being a man who has sex with other men
- Being an IV drug user or having a history of injecting drugs
- Having chronic kidney disease , liver disease, or HIV
- Undergoing dialysis
- Having diabetes if you are younger than 60 years old
- Having a job where you might be exposed to HBV-infected blood or body fluids
- Working or living in an institution for the developmentally disabled
- Living with or working with people who have chronic HBV infection
- Traveling to areas where there is a high rate of HBV infection
What Are the Risks Associated With the Hepatitis B Vaccine?
All vaccines are capable of causing serious problems, such as a severe allergic reaction.
Most people who get the hepatitis B vaccine do not have problems. Some may have mild problems, including soreness where the shot was given and fever.
Acetaminophen is sometimes given to reduce pain and fever that may occur after getting a vaccine. In infants, the medication may weaken the vaccine's effectiveness. Discuss the risks and benefits of taking acetaminophen with the doctor.
Who Should Not Get Vaccinated?
You should not get the vaccine if you:
- Had a life-threatening allergic reaction to baker's yeast or to a previous dose of hepatitis B vaccine
- Are moderately or severely ill—Wait until you recover to get the vaccine.
What Other Ways Can Hepatitis B Be Prevented Besides Vaccination?
Other than getting the hepatitis B vaccine, the best methods of preventing an HBV infection include:
- Practicing safe sex
- Getting a blood test for hepatitis B if you are pregnant
- Avoiding illegal drugs
- Not using other people's personal care items that may have blood on them, such as razors or toothbrushes
- Considering the risks before getting a tattoo or body piercing
- Following safety precautions when handling needles or other sharp objects
What Happens in the Event of an Outbreak?
In the event of an outbreak, all susceptible people should be offered the vaccine.
- Reviewer: Kim Carmichael, MD
- Review Date: 09/2013 -
- Update Date: 09/30/2013 -