Fortunately, vaccines are highly effective in preventing transmission of hepatitis B infection. All individuals who have had household or sexual exposure to another person with hepatitis B infection should be tested to determine if they have antibodies to the virus or are already infected. If they test negative, they should immediately be vaccinated with hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG) and should begin the hepatitis B vaccination series. This vaccine is given in three doses (at diagnosis, after one month, and after six months). Similarly, infants delivered to infected mothers should receive HBIG immediately after birth. These infants should then begin the hepatitis B vaccination series before leaving the hospital.
Vaccination of newborn babies is approximately 85 to 95% effective in preventing neonatal hepatitis B infection. In view of these extremely favorable results, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommend that all infants receive the hepatitis B vaccine. Infants born to uninfected mothers require only this vaccine; however, infants born to infected mothers should receive both the vaccine and HBIG. Therefore, all pregnant mothers should expect to be screened for hepatitis B at some point during their pregnancy.
Presently, two hepatitis B vaccines are available: Recombivax-HB and Engerix-B. Both products are composed of inactivated portions of the surface antigen and are prepared by recombinant DNA technology. Neither poses a risk of transmission of a blood-borne pathogen, such as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Both are safe for administration during pregnancy.