Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is a viral infection carried in the blood causing inflammation of the liver and potentially long term damage. The virus is transmitted by contact with an infected person’s blood or body fluids. Hepatitis B is vaccine preventable.
The average incubation period for hepatitis B is 40 to 160 days. Some people experience flu-like symptoms including sore throat, tiredness, joint pains and nausea. Acute infection can be severe and cause abdominal discomfort and jaundice. There is also a liver-damaging chronic state of hepatitis B that is infectious and may be asymptomatic (without symptoms). Some people with hepatitis B go on to develop cirrhosis or liver cancer.
Infants born to hepatitis B infected mothers are at risk of perinatal transmission. The National policy recommends immunisation of infants (with vaccine +/- hepatitis B immunoglobulin) at birth, four weeks and at 12 months of age. In addition, hexavalent vaccine (Infanrix hexa) is given at 8, 12 and 16 weeks of age with a blood test carried out at 12 months to exclude infection.