Children and infants can contract hepatitis B. Some children may recover without treatment and have no long-term effects, but for others it can turn into a lifelong infection.

Hepatitis B is a liver infection that results from a virus. It can be acute, lasting only a short time, or chronic, lasting for the rest of a child’s life.

Children under age 5 may not show any signs or symptoms of infection, but children older than 5 may experience symptoms such as fatigue, jaundice, nausea, and vomiting.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all infants receive a hepatitis B vaccination to help prevent infection.

This article reviews how hepatitis B can affect children, its possible symptoms and causes, and more.

A female parent holding their child on a bed. The most common route of transmission for hepatitis B in children is from their mothers during birth.Share on Pinterest
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Hepatitis B is a viral infection of the liver.

In some cases, it may be an acute infection that lasts a short time. In other cases, hepatitis B can turn into a chronic, lifelong infection and may cause complications such as liver damage and liver failure. It is also a leading cause of liver cancer.

According to the CDC, doctors in the United States reported 2,157 acute cases of hepatitis B in 2020. When considering unreported cases, the CDC estimates that about 14,000 total cases of acute hepatitis B occurred that year.

In the same year, doctors reported 11,635 new cases of chronic hepatitis B. Of those who received a diagnosis of chronic hepatitis B, about 88% were older than age 30.

Children younger than 5 years often do not show symptoms of hepatitis B, while 30–50% of children ages 5 years and older may show symptoms.

A child can be a carrier of the virus even if they have no symptoms, which means they can pass the virus to others.

When symptoms occur, they often happen 3–4 months after initial exposure. Symptoms can include:

Hepatitis B is contagious. Children can contract the virus through contact with the bodily fluids of people who have it, including blood and saliva.

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that the virus often passes from mother to child during birth and delivery.

Other common modes of transmission in children include:

  • sharing of toothbrushes or other personal items
  • having open cuts or sores
  • chewing food for a baby
  • touching surfaces or objects, as the virus can live on objects for 7 days or longer

Anyone who is carrying the virus can pass it to a baby or child.

Learn more about hepatitis B carriers and transmission.

Diagnosis requires blood tests. According to the CDC, a healthcare professional needs to order three tests to confirm a hepatitis B infection:

  • hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg)
  • hepatitis B surface antibody (anti-HBs)
  • total hepatitis B core antibody (anti-HBc)

These tests can help a healthcare professional determine whether a child:

  • has had a hepatitis B infection or vaccination and is immune
  • is susceptible to a hepatitis B infection and should get a vaccination
  • has an active acute or chronic hepatitis B infection

After diagnosing hepatitis B, a healthcare professional will refer a child for treatment. If the child is susceptible to hepatitis B, a healthcare professional will likely recommend that they get vaccinated.

Learn more about hepatitis B tests and results.

Treatment will depend on the type of hepatitis B a child has.

If they have an acute infection, a healthcare professional will likely provide treatment to help relieve the child’s symptoms. This can include medications to help with fever and nausea.

Children with chronic hepatitis B will likely need antiviral medications and continued monitoring for liver disease and cancer.

Learn more about new and current treatment options for hepatitis B.

Hepatitis B is a preventable infection. The CDC recommends that all infants receive the hepatitis B vaccination to protect them from infection. The CDC also recommends that any child younger than 19 years get a hepatitis B vaccination if they have not already. Adults can also receive a hepatitis B vaccination.

Experts consider the hepatitis B vaccine safe and effective for preventing hepatitis B. It can cause some minor side effects, including a low grade fever of 101°F (38°C) or less and a sore arm.

A parent or guardian should follow the vaccination schedule from a pediatrician. The vaccination comes in three doses. A child will typically receive the first dose soon after birth, and a few months will pass before they receive each additional dose.

Vaccination is the most effective form of protection, but for those who have not received the vaccine, taking additional precautions can help prevent the spread of hepatitis B.

Precautions include:

  • not sharing personal items
  • not chewing food for an infant
  • using disinfectants to clean surfaces that may have had contact with blood or saliva
  • keeping wounds and cuts covered

In addition to getting vaccinated, pregnant people may have routine blood tests to check for hepatitis B infection.

When a person with hepatitis B gives birth, healthcare professionals can administer hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG) and the hepatitis B vaccine to the child within 12 hours of birth to protect them from the infection.

Here are some frequently asked questions about hepatitis B in children.

Is hepatitis B curable in children?

Hepatitis B may clear in children within a few weeks, but about 90% of infants and 25–50% of children under age 5 will develop a chronic, lifelong infection.

Learn more about whether hepatitis B is curable.

How long does hepatitis B last in children?

Some children will have an acute infection that lasts a few weeks. Younger children and infants have the highest chance of developing a chronic, lifelong infection. This can lead to liver damage, liver failure, or liver cancer.

However, the Hepatitis B Foundation states that the infection does not typically affect a child’s growth and development. Many children with hepatitis B lead healthy lives and have a typical life expectancy.

Hepatitis B in children is generally a serious infection. Younger children have the highest chance of developing a chronic, lifelong infection with hepatitis B.

Chronic hepatitis B can lead to liver damage, liver failure, and liver cancer. Treatment typically involves monitoring the child for liver damage and possibly using antiviral medications.

No specific treatments are available for acute hepatitis B infections, but a healthcare professional will help treat the symptoms.

A vaccination for hepatitis B can safely and effectively prevent infection. The CDC recommends that all infants and unvaccinated children receive a vaccination for hepatitis B.