Special Needs Adoption: Focus on Hepatitis B
Today, July 28, is World Hepatitis Day. Statistics tell us that approximately one-third of people infected with hepatitis B worldwide live in China. It is therefore not surprising that Hepatitis B is a fairly common condition among orphaned children in China. Although hepatitis B is classified as an infectious disease and can therefore be quite frightening to people, many children live with this disease with very few side effects and grow up to live long and healthy lives as adults.
What is Hepatitis B? Hepatitis B is an infection of the liver that is caused by a virus. This virus can be passed to a newborn from an infected mother or can be passed to a child from an orphanage caregiver who is infected. Hepatitis B is much more common outside the United States due to lower rates of vaccination.
Although most adults who come down with hepatitis B make full recoveries, children are more at risk for becoming chronic carriers of the disease. About 90% of infants who are infected become chronically infected. Being a chronic carrier means that these individuals tested positive for hepatitis B more than six months after their initial infection. It also means that they are at risk for coming down with a severe infection that can affect their liver. However, most carriers of this disease, especially children, show no symptoms at all and go on to live long, healthy and productive lives. In fact, most people would never even suspect that these children have a chronic medical issue!
Although most infected individuals do not experience symptoms, symptoms such as mild nausea, low-grade fever, loss of appetite, myalgia and some abdominal pain can appear from 45 to 180 days after contracting the virus. More severe symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or jaundice would warrant immediate medical attention.
Children with Hepatitis B will require regular visits to hepatologist, or liver specialist, or a gastroenterologist who is familiar with hepatitis B. While not every child with hepatitis B requires treatment, some certainly will. The available treatments involve injections of interferon alpha or a pill that is to be taken for at least one year.
Because it is possible for hepatitis B carriers to infect others around them, it is important that all family members receive a hepatitis B vaccination. This vaccine is extremely effective in protecting other family members. In many states, the hepatitis B vaccine is required for entrance to schools. Just in case you were wondering, however, carriers can only infect others through contact with bodily fluids. Although the virus can be found in saliva, it is not believed to be spread through kissing or sharing utensils. And it is not spread through sneezing, coughing, hugging, or breastfeeding. All those who have been vaccinated can safely interact with an infected family member.
While no cure for hepatitis B has been found, the good news is that work is being done on treatments that can slow down the virus and keep the liver from being negatively affected. This is a very manageable special need, and one which we hope many families might consider when they are looking into special needs adoption!
For more information on hepatitis B, please check out these resources: