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Preventing hepatitis B or C

Hepatitis B and hepatitis C infections cause irritation and swelling of the liver. You should take steps to prevent catching or spreading these viruses since these infections can cause chronic liver disease.

Vaccines

All children should get the hepatitis B vaccine.

  • Babies should get a first dose of the hepatitis B vaccine at birth. They should have all three shots in the series by age 6 months.
  • Infants born to mothers who have acute hepatitis B or have had the infection in the past should get a special hepatitis B vaccine within 12 hours of birth.
  • Children younger than age 19 who have not had the vaccine should get "catch-up" doses.

Adults at high risk for hepatitis B should also be vaccinated, including:

  • Health care workers and those who live with someone who has hepatitis B
  • People with end-stage kidney disease, chronic liver disease, or HIV infection
  • People with multiple sex partners and men who have sex with other men
  • People who use recreational, injectable drugs

There is no vaccine for hepatitis C.

Lifestyle

Hepatitis B and C viruses are spread through contact with blood or bodily fluids of a person with the virus. The viruses are not spread through casual contact, such as holding hands, sharing eating utensils or drinking glasses, breastfeeding, kissing, hugging, coughing, or sneezing.

To avoid coming in contact with blood or bodily fluids of others:

  • Avoid sharing personal items, such as razors or toothbrushes
  • Do not share drug needles or other drug equipment (such as straws for snorting drugs)
  • Clean blood spills with a solution containing 1 part household bleach to 9 parts water
  • Be careful when getting tattoos and body piercings

All people who have sex outside of a monogamous relationship should practice safer sex behaviors to avoid hepatitis B and C.

Other steps you can take

Screening of all donated blood has reduced the chance of getting hepatitis B from a blood transfusion. People newly diagnosed with hepatitis B infection should be reported to state health care workers to track the population's exposure to the virus.

The hepatitis B vaccine, or a hepatitis immune globulin (HBIG) shot, may help prevent infection if it is received it within 24 hours of contact with the virus.

References

Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) Recommended Immunization Schedules for Persons Aged 0 through 18 years and adults aged 19 years and older -- United States, 2013. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). MMWR. January 28, 2013.

Perrillo R. Hepatitis B and D. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 78.

Chronic viral and autoimmune hepatitis. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 151.

Updated: 10/13/2013

George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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