Some U.S. hospitals aren’t administering prevention treatments to infants born to moms with hepatitis B, according to a new study, reported on by HealthDay News.

Hepatitis B is a virus infection of the liver that mothers with the illness can pass to their babies during delivery. Even infants exposed to the virus can avoid the infection, however, if they receive within 24 hours of birth the hepatitis B vaccine and hepatitis B immunoglobin.

Researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analyzed medical records of 4,762 mothers and 4,786 babies. Docs found that 18 women had hepatitis B when admitted to the hospital, but only 62 percent of their infants got fully treated for the infection. The hospital allowed about 14 percent of the babies to leave unvaccinated, and it didn’t administer the full hepatitis B treatment to nearly 20 percent.

According to the article, about one in five at-risk babies aren’t getting proper hep B prevention treatments. In addition, of 320 mothers with unknown hepatitis B status (they may or may not have been tested for the virus) only about 52 percent of their babies received the vaccine within 12 hours of being born. But about 20 percent of these infants were not vaccinated.

“A key message of the study is that hepatitis B virus transmission is almost entirely preventable through vaccination and prophylaxis,” said Bayo Wills, MPH, a CDC epidemiologist and the study’s author.

The CDC suggests that hospitals give babies the hepatitis B vaccine at birth and administer a booster shot at 18 months.

In addition, some health care professionals recommend that docs routinely test pregnant women for hepatitis B as part of their prenatal care.

If pregnant women aren’t receiving this routine testing, hospitals should administer them when admitting the women, said Kenneth Bromberg, MD, chairman of pediatrics and director of the Vaccine Research Center at The Brooklyn Hospital Center in New York City.

Many hospitals don’t routinely test pregnant women for hepatitis B upon admission. Nor do they have policies requiring they give infants the hepatitis vaccine.

If they did, the health outcomes would be improved for newborns, who are seriously at risk of getting hepatitis B infections that may become chronic and result in liver disease by the time they reach their 20s, Bromberg said.

Researchers’ findings also spotlight the crucial role hospitals play in shaping these health outcomes in both positive and negative ways.

One huge problem researchers found is inaccuracies in hospital recordkeeping about mothers’ hepatitis B status. (For example, hospitals may report a mom having hepatitis B but then fail to note that on her baby’s record.)

“We need hospitals to have correct policies in place and to implement those policies so that every newborn is protected before they leave the hospital,” Willis said.

“The greatest predictor of which children would get the hepatitis vaccine was the hospital having a policy for universal vaccination of infants,” he added.

For more information about the hepatitis B vaccine, click here.

Find out more about hepatitis, liver health and their connection to HIV here.