Babies born to hepatitis B positive mothers
Introducing parents to dried blood spot (DBS) testing
What is hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is a virus that causes infection of the liver and can lead to serious, long-term liver problems and damage if left untreated.
Symptoms of hepatitis B can include feeling sick and vomiting, loss of appetite, stomach pain, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes), fever and aching joints, although young children may not experience any symptoms at all.
Who can it affect?
Hepatitis B can affect anyone who is not already immune to the virus. The virus is present in blood and bodily fluids and can be passed from one person to another when the exchange of blood or bodily fluids takes place, for example, during pregnancy. Babies born to mothers who have hepatitis B during pregnancy or to mothers who are carriers of hepatitis B are most at risk from the disease.
Although transmission from mother to child during birth causes persistent hepatitis B infection in babies, in most cases it can be prevented.
How can I reduce the risk of my child getting hepatitis B?
Mothers are routinely tested for hepatitis B during their pregnancy. Babies born to mothers who are found to be hepatitis B positive are immunised once they are born. To be effective and help prevent disease it is important the baby receives 4 doses of the hepatitis B vaccine, keeping to a strict schedule of doses at birth, 1 month, 2 months, 12 months and at 3.5 years with preschool booster.
Why does my child need a blood test?
Immunising your child against hepatitis B can help to prevent the transmission of the virus to your child. It is also important to test your child for hepatitis B at 12 months of age. Early recognition and prompt treatment of the disease can help reduce the long-term risks and complications of hepatitis B. The test will determine if your child has become infected with the virus and whether he or she requires prompt referral to a specialist medical team. A negative hepatitis B test result in a child at 12 months of age can also provide parents with reassurance that their child has not been affected by the virus.
What does the blood test involve?
This is a heel-prick blood test called a dried blood spot (DBS) test.
It is a simple and quick test, similar to the Guthrie test the midwives do. The heel prick is done at the same time your child receives the final dose of the hepatitis B vaccine at 12 months of age.
What will the result tell me?
The test will detect the presence of hepatitis B in your child’s blood and identify whether your child has the infection or not. It is important to note that the test does not look for antibodies that are produced in response to the hepatitis B vaccinations. It will only look for the infection.
How long will results take?
Your result will be ready within 10-14 days of testing. Your immunisation nurse will inform you of the result and your GP will also be informed.
What will happen if my child’s test result is positive?
A positive test result confirms that your child has been infected with hepatitis B virus. Your child’s GP will be informed so that a referral to a specialist medical team can be made. Your GP may request that household members are immunised against hepatitis B, if they have not previously been immunised. Household family members who have been diagnosed with hepatitis B or have been fully immunised against the disease do not require further immunisations.
Where can I find more information about hepatitis B?
Further information is available from your GP surgery or via the following websites:
Public Health England (formerly Health Protection Agency): http://www.hpa.org.uk/Topics/InfectiousDiseases/InfectionsAZ/HepatitisB/GeneralInformationHepatitisB/hepbGeneralInfo/
The British Liver Trust: http://www.britishlivertrust.org.uk/liver-information/liver-conditions/hepatitis-b/