Newborns should get hepatitis B shot within hours of birth

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There’s been a change in the recommendation for when a baby should get that first shot, the hepatitis B vaccine. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) now says infants should get the first dose of this vaccine within 24 hours of birth. Before this, parents and doctors had the option to wait until a baby’s first checkup.

Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus.

Why the change?

Around the nation, more people are becoming addicted to opioid drugs. It’s common for these drugs to be taken by needle, and this can spread diseases such as hepatitis B. As a result, the number of people with hepatitis B is rising in some states.

About 1,000 babies are infected with hepatitis B at birth each year in the U.S., according to research cited by the AAP.

People may not know they have the virus because they don’t feel sick. But they can pass it on during birth or even while caring for a baby. Hepatitis B is present in blood, saliva, semen and vaginal fluids. The best way to prevent the infection is to be vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hepatitis B can damage a baby’s liver and lead to liver disease, cancer and even death. But giving infants the vaccine within 24 hours of birth prevents the virus from being passed from mother to baby more than 75 percent of the time, according to the AAP’s policy statement.

Once babies get the full series of three or four shots, nearly all are fully immune to the virus.

The AAP says the vaccine is tolerated well by newborns.

Don’t delay

The AAP says all newborns should receive the first dose within 24 hours if:

  • They’re medically stable.
  • They weigh at least 4 pounds, 6 ounces.

Babies that weigh less should get the shot at the time they leave the hospital or at one month, whichever comes first.

You can read the policy statement in the journal Pediatrics.

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