Hepatitis B Virus: Kids Can Infect Kids

by Eric Mast, M.D., M.P.H

Many people believe that young kids in the United States don’t become infected with the hepatitis B virus (HBV) except through perinatal transmission, when HBV infected moms pass it to their newborn children. However, several studies have documented high rates of early childhood HBV transmission among kids born in the United States to moms who are not infected with HBV.

The data indicate that the highest risk of early childhood transmission is among kids born to moms who immigrated to the United States from countries where HBV infection is highly endemic (e.g., Southeast Asia, China), but in fact the majority of early childhood HBV infections occur among African American and white children.

It’s estimated that 33,000 kids (10 years of age and younger) born to moms who are not infected with HBV were infected each year prior to implementation of routine childhood hepatitis B vaccination. In addition, an estimated 12,000 kids born to HBV infected moms were infected each year before implementation of immunization programs to prevent perinatal HBV infections.

In household settings, non-sexual transmission of HBV occurs primarily from child to child, and young kids are at highest risk of infection. We’re not sure exactly how transmission occurs, but frequent contact of non-intact skin or mucous membranes with blood-containing secretions including, perhaps, saliva, are the most likely means of transmission. HBV remains infectious at mild temperatures for extended periods and can be found on and transmitted through sharing of inanimate objects such as wash towels or toothbrushes.

Without vaccination, kids do infect kids.

Dr. Mast is Chief of the Prevention Branch, Division of Viral Hepatitis, National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention (proposed), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Important disclaimer: The information on is for educational purposes only and should not be considered to be medical advice. It is not meant to replace the advice of the physician who cares for your child. All medical advice and information should be considered to be incomplete without a physical exam, which is not possible without a visit to your doctor.

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