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Hepatitis B is a serious disease of the liver caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Most people will recover without any complications. However, some people develop chronic (long-term) hepatitis B infection. In some people with chronic infections, hepatitis B can lead to severe illness, liver cancer, liver failure, and sometimes death.
Hepatitis B virus is spread when blood or certain body fluids, such as semen and vaginal secretions, from an infected person enter the body of a person who is not infected. Some examples include:
An infected person with no symptoms can still spread hepatitis B to others.
You get hepatitis B by direct contact with blood or certain body fluids of a person who has hepatitis B. Your risk is higher for hepatitis B if you:
See your health care provider. Blood tests will determine if you are infected with hepatitis B. Follow-up blood tests are necessary to determine if the disease is still present. Chronic hepatitis B is diagnosed by two positive blood tests at least six months apart. Chronic infection may last for a lifetime.
Hepatitis B is known as a “silent infection,” because you may have very mild or no symptoms. Symptoms appear six weeks to six months after exposure. Symptoms may include:
In most people, the infection will clear itself. People with chronic infection should see their health care provider to determine if the disease is getting worse. Medications are available for the treatment of chronic hepatitis B, and your health care provider can decide which one is right for you. It is important to avoid further injury to your liver by:
A safe and effective vaccine can prevent hepatitis B infection. It is recommended for all children from birth to 18 years and adults at risk for hepatitis B. See your health care provider for more information on hepatitis B vaccine.
Other ways to prevent hepatitis B infection include:
All information presented is intended for public use. For more information, please refer to:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Hepatitis B Foundation
Immunization Action Coalition
This page was last reviewed July 17, 2009.