A: We just moved to Baltimore. When we took our 12-year-old son to the doctor, she recommended that he get the Hepatitis B vaccine. Why would my son need this?
Q: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that all adolescents receive the Hepatitis B vaccine. The prevalence of Hepatitis B infection begins to rise during adolescence. Individuals usually contract the infection through sexual intercourse, intravenous drug use or occupational exposure (for example, working in a hospital). This infection is associated with a significant number of deaths each year.
As you are reading this, you may be thinking "my son doesn't work in a hospital and isn't doing any of these other things." Nonetheless, we still would argue that he should receive the vaccine.
Many young people initiate intercourse during adolescence but do not share that information with their parents. Once they begin to have sex, they are at some risk of infection; the magnitude of the risk varies with their sexual behavior.
The two vaccines available are very safe. Since they are produced using recombinant DNA technology and bakers' yeast (a nice combination of high and low technology), there is no risk to the recipient of acquiring other infectious diseases. The three-dose series has a 90-95 percent efficacy rate in preventing infection.
Ultimately, the decision is up to you and your son. We hope you will share this information with him and allow him to make the final choice. Teen-agers tend to use the health care system less and less as they get older, so now would be an ideal time to get this done.
Dr. Wilson is director of general pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Children's Center; Dr. Joffe is director of adolescent medicine.