Q. Why should my newborn receive the hepatitis B vaccine if I know that I am not infected with hepatitis B virus?
A. Before the hepatitis B vaccine became a routine recommendation in 1991, every year about 18,000 children in the United States were infected with hepatitis B before they reached 10 years of age. Half of those 18,000 early-life infections were not contracted during birth from an infected mother. Instead, they were caused by exposure to someone who, knowingly or not, was infected with hepatitis B virus. Because the hepatitis B virus is present in such large quantities in the blood of someone who is infected, it can be transmitted through quantities of blood not able to be seen with the naked eye, such as from shared toothbrushes or washcloths. Because a large number of people infected with hepatitis B are unaware they have the disease, it is extremely difficult to be confident we can avoid the infection through our own actions.