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Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a potentially deadly infection of the liver that kills about 500,000 to 700,000 people each year, mostly in developing countries. The virus is spread perinatally from an infected mother to her infant at birth, from child to child, through unsafe injections and blood transfusions, and through sexual contact. Currently, there is no effective treatment for the disease. Hepatitis B vaccines have been shown to be about 95 percent protective against the disease when used correctly.

Hepatitis B resources on the Vaccine Resource Library were mainly gathered during PATH’s Children’s Vaccine Program, which conducted activities with hepatitis B vaccine from 2001 to 2006 in Vietnam and Cambodia. For additional resources, visit the hepatitis page on the World Health Organization website.

View resources on hepatitis B

On the PATH website

Hepatitis B disease

  • Hepatitis B is a potentially deadly infection of the liver that kills about 500,000 to 700,000 people each year, mostly in developing countries. Hepatitis B has infected more than two billion people worldwide and 360 million people are chronic carriers. As much as 15 percent of the populations in the most affected areas are chronically infected carriers of hepatitis B virus (HBV).
  • HBV causes 60 to 80 percent of the world’s primary liver cancer—the number one cause of cancer deaths in males in sub-Saharan Africa and much of Asia and a significant cause of cancer deaths in women. Infection in adults usually is self-limiting and often results in acute disease with jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin), dark urine, loss of appetite, and extreme fatigue lasting weeks or months. Infants and young children are most at risk for HBV. Approximately 90 percent of children infected at the time of birth become chronic carriers of the virus.
  • The virus is spread perinatally from an infected mother to her infant at birth, from child to child, from unsafe injections and transfusions, and through sexual contact. Although this is similar to the AIDS-causing virus, HIV, the hepatitis B virus is 40 to 100 times more infectious than HIV.
  • Currently, there are no effective treatments for hepatitis B. Drug therapies are available; however, they have not been shown to change the course of the disease.

Hepatitis B vaccines

  • The hepatitis B vaccine is produced from plasma or by recombinant DNA technology and is safe and effective. The vaccine protects against acute hepatitis disease as well as chronic disease, including cirrhosis and liver cancer, and is about 95 percent effective against disease when used correctly.
  • Vaccination is recommended for all infants as the level of protection is age related, with infants, children, and young adults having the greatest levels of protection after vaccination. Adults and people with immune deficiencies have somewhat lower levels of protection.
  • To prevent perinatal (mother-to-child) transmission, a first dose of vaccine is given as soon as possible after birth, ideally within 24 hours. Vaccination usually requires receiving three doses of vaccine. To simplify immunization schedules, hepatitis B vaccine is often given at the same time as diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP) vaccine. However, DTP cannot be given at birth; hence, if a birth dose is given, it is monovalent hepatitis B vaccine.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that all countries add hepatitis B vaccine to their national immunization programs. According to WHO/United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) data, 160 member states (85 percent) have introduced hepatitis B vaccine into routine immunization schedules. As of 2006, 60 percent of one-year-old children have been vaccinated against hepatitis B.
  • New and innovative financing mechanisms have been developed to cover the high cost of the vaccine and ensure sustainability of hepatitis B vaccine introduction. Also, new competition has driven prices down resulting in a list price of US$0.25 in 2006 compared to US$100 per dose in 1980, according to UNICEF.

For more information

Hepatitis B resources on the Vaccine Resource Library were mainly gathered during PATH’s Children’s Vaccine Program, which conducted activities with hepatitis B vaccine from 2001 to 2006 in Vietnam and Cambodia. For additional resources, visit the hepatitis page on the World Health Organization website.

References

Page last updated: June 2013.

Photo: PATH/Felix Masi.