Pediatric Hepatitis B Treatment & Management

Updated: May 14, 2021
  • Author: Nicholas John Bennett, MBBCh, PhD, FAAP, MA(Cantab); Chief Editor: Russell W Steele, MD  more...
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Approach Considerations

From the time of initial diagnosis, optimal management of hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection requires a lifetime of routine monitoring, even when patients are asymptomatic. The aims of treatment of chronic hepatitis B are to achieve sustained suppression of HBV replication and remission of liver disease. The ultimate goal is to prevent cirrhosis, hepatic failure, and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Children with HBV infection may not need treatment until well into their adolescent years or adulthood.

To date, no conclusive evidence from randomized controlled trials of anti-HBV therapy has demonstrated a beneficial impact on any of these primary clinical outcomes because cirrhosis, hepatocellular carcinoma, and death often do not occur for many years after infection with HBV and would therefore require long-term evaluation of therapy to demonstrate benefit. As a consequence, most published reports of anti-HBV therapy use changes in short-term virologic, biochemical, and histologic parameters to infer the likelihood of long-term benefit. Parameters used to assess treatment response include normalization of serum ALT, decrease in serum HBV DNA level, loss of HBeAg with or without detection of anti-HBe, and improvement in liver histology.

Currently, 8 agents have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in the treatment of adults with chronic hepatitis B in the United States. In 2012, tenofovir disoproxil fumarate was approved by the FDA for children with chronic hepatitis B aged 12 years and older. Peginterferon alfa-2a is approved for use in children with HBV infection aged 3 years and older in the United States. Entecavir is approved for use in children with HBV infection aged 2 years and older. These agents, categorized as either interferons (IFN-a2b and peginterferon-a2a) or nucleoside or nucleotide analogues (entecavir, tenofovir disoproxil fumarate, tenofovir alafenamide, telbivudine, lamivudine, adefovir), may be used as monotherapy or in combination. Interferon use has a defined, self-limited course; in contrast, therapy with nucleoside or nucleotide analogues can be long-term, often indefinite treatment.

A study of adolescents with HBV infection treated with tenofovir disoproxil fumarate showed excellent responses with improvements in viral load, liver enzyme levels, and fewer adverse events compared with placebo. [8]

Surgical care for HBV infection includes liver transplantation for decompensated liver disease and surgical resection of hepatocellular carcinoma.

The American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD) has published guidelines on the management of chronic hepatitis B. [9]  The World Health Organization guidelines for the prevention, care, and treatment of persons with chronic hepatitis B were considered in the development of the AASLD guidelines. [10]

See also Pediatric Hepatitis A, Pediatric Hepatitis C, and Viral Hepatitis.

Indications for hospital admission

Most patients do not require hospital care, but patients with clinically severe illness may require hospitalization.

A prolonged prothrombin time, low serum albumin level, hypoglycemia, and very high serum bilirubin values suggest severe hepatocellular disease; patients with these findings require prompt hospital admission.


Consultations may include the following:

  • Infectious disease specialists for placement in therapeutic protocols

  • Gastroenterologist for biopsy assessment and therapy


Diet and Activity

A high-energy diet is desirable, and because many patients may have nausea late in the day, they best tolerate their major caloric intake in the morning. Intravenous feeding is necessary in the acute stage if the patient has persistent vomiting and cannot eat. Although forced and prolonged bed rest is not essential for full recovery from acute hepatitis, many patients feel better with restricted physical activity.



Hepatitis B is one of the major diseases that can be prevented with vaccination. Two types of recombinant hepatitis B vaccines are licensed for use in the United States; both are effective and safe.

Universal vaccination refers to the administration of HBV vaccine to all infants as a part of the routine childhood immunization schedule and to all children younger than 11 or 12 years who have not previously received a vaccine. Rapid (0-, 1-, and 2-mo) and standard (0-, 1- to 2-, 6-mo) schedules have identical efficacy.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that the hepatitis B vaccine should be administered within the first 24 hours to all newborn infants with a birth weight of greater than or equal to 2000 g. [11]

Passive immunization refers to the administration of preformed human or animal antibody, in the form of hepatitis B immunoglobulin (HBIG), to patients after or just before exposure. The current recommendation for neonates of mothers who are HBV surface antigen (HBsAg) positive is to administer HBIG 0.5 mL intramuscularly with the first dose of recombinant HBV vaccine within 12 hours of birth.

After immunization of exposed infants, serology should be tested for HBsAg and anti-HBs at age 9-18 months. An HBsAg-positive finding in an exposed infant, which is rare, indicates failure of immunoprophylaxis, and the third vaccine dose is not necessary. Breastfeeding is acceptable and does not pose a risk of transmitting HBV to infants who have begun prophylaxis. [12]

For preterm infants who weigh less than 2000 g and are born to mothers with unknown HBsAg status, 0.5 mL HBIG should be given within 12 hours. The birth dose of vaccine should not be counted, and 3 additional doses are given according to recommendations. In infants of infected mothers, combined treatment with the vaccine and HBIG has 79-98% efficacy in preventing chronic HBV infection.

Patients on dialysis and those who are immunocompromised need to be evaluated annually for hepatitis B; if the anti HBsAb level is less than 10 mIU/mL, a booster dose is recommended.

Testing of hepatitis serology for immune response is recommended for high-risk groups such as homosexuals and bisexuals, patients on dialysis, sexual and household contacts of hepatitis B carriers, and patients with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection.

After 3 primary doses of the vaccine, if no serologic response with anti-HBs of 10 mIU/mL is noted, reimmunization with a 3-dose series is recommended. If the response if still negative, the patient is unlikely to mount antibody with additional doses. Some experts recommended the second course be with the high-dose version of the vaccine typically used for dialysis patients.

Twinrix is a combination of hepatitis B (Engerix-B, 20 mcg) and hepatitis A (Havrix, 720 ELU) vaccine approved for people aged 18 years or older in a 3-dose schedule administered at 0 months, 1 month, and 6 or more months later.

Some combination vaccines used in the routine vaccination schedule result in infants receiving 4 doses of HBV vaccine (eg, at 0, 2, 4, and 6 mo). This is considered acceptable.

A study by Bruce et al examined the hepatitis vaccine duration of protection in children and adults in a cohort of 1578 Alaska Native adults and children from 15 Alaska communities aged 6 months or older who received 3 doses of plasma-derived hepatitis B vaccine. The study estimated that ≥90% of participants had evidence of protection 30 years later and that booster doses are not needed based on anti-HBs level ≥10 mIU/mL at 30 years and an 88% booster dose response. [13, 14]


Long-Term Monitoring

All persons with chronic hepatitis B who are not immune to hepatitis A should receive 2 doses of hepatitis A vaccine 6-18 months apart. Infants of HBsAg-positive women should receive hepatitis B immunoglobulin and hepatitis B vaccination within 12 hours of birth, a complete set of 3 vaccinations, and long-term follow-up.

Reserve routine screening using ultrasonography and alpha-fetoprotein determination for patients with severe chronic active hepatitis, cirrhosis, or both. [15]