April 26, 2010 10:50
Kim Spencer comments in her post that infants do not need Hepatitis B vaccine because the only way that one can contract the virus is through needle sharing and sexual intercourse.
In fact, in fully one third of cases of Hepatitis B, the exposure is completely unknown. Exchange of blood or semen is not required to transmit Hepatitis B. The reason to vaccinate as early as possible is because the earlier a child contracts Hepatitis B, the more likely he or she is to develop chronic Hepatitis and hepatocellular carcinoma, a liver cancer.
Children can be exposed to the virus simply by eating in a restaurant. The food industry is well known as a potential source of hepatitis B. That's one reason why there are signs in every restaurant restroom reminding employees to wash their hands before returning to work.
There is plenty of Hepatitis B around the world and lots more in the U.S. than we realize. Every pediatrician in America cares for internationally adopted children, a proportion of whom are infected with Hepatitis B because they are from countries where it is rampant and have not been vaccinated. Those children attend school and play sports with our children. The risk is there. It's not zero. And the risk to your child's health, should he or she contract Hepatitis B, is greater than the risk of the vaccine.
Over the years I have received a number of calls from parents who are discovering for the first time that a close relative has previously undiagnosed chronic hepatitis B. They wonder what the risk to their child is if, for example, they take a family vacation or go to a reunion or picnic. If the child in immunized I can reassure them that the risk is extremely low. If not, the risk is very likely greater. Of course we can't quantify the risk, but we do know it's there.