Hepatitis B Contacts

What is hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a serious disease of the liver caused by a virus. Hepatitis B can lead to severe illness, liver damage, and sometimes death.

How is it spread?

You get hepatitis B by direct contact with blood or certain body fluids, such as semen and vaginal secretions, of a person who has it. For example, you can get it by having sex or sharing needles with a person who has it. It may also be spread within households if razors, toothbrushes or other items are shared. A baby can get it from its mother during birth. Approximately 25 percent of all persons with hepatitis B have no idea how they got it.

Who is at risk for hepatitis B?

One out of every 20 people will get hepatitis B some time in their lives. Your risk is higher if you:

  • are born to a mother who has the hepatitis B;
  • have a job that exposes you to blood;
  • live in the same house with someone who has lifelong hepatitis infection;
  • have sex with a person who has hepatitis B
  • have sex with more than one person in a 6 month period;
  • are a man and have sex with a man;
  • shoot drugs;
  • are a patient or work in a home for the developmentally disabled;
  • were born or have parents who were born in Southeast Asia, Africa, the Amazon Basin in South America, the Pacific Islands, Eastern Europe, or the Middle East;
  • are a patient on hemodialysis; or
  • have hemophilia.

What symptoms should I watch for?

Half of all adults do not have any symptoms. It takes between six weeks and six months to get sick after you contract the virus. If you have symptoms, they might be:

  • yellowing of the eyes or skin;
  • lack of appetite;
  • nausea, vomiting;
  • fever;
  • stomach pain;
  • pain in joints;
  • extreme fatigue;
  • dark urine

How can I protect myself?

  • Talk to your health care provider or call your local health department for information about hepatitis B.
  • Hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for people who have had contact with a person with hepatitis B (three doses give long-term protection). The vaccine is safe and effective.
  • Your doctor may also recommend a shot of Hepatitis B Immune Globulin (gives fast protection, but doesn’t last long).
  • See your doctor immediately if you become ill. The doctor will need to do blood tests and will advise you on how to protect yourself and your family.

Who is a carrier of hepatitis B?

Sometimes, people who have hepatitis B never recover fully and still carry the virus in their body. About 1.25 million people in the U.S. carry hepatitis B. They can infect others for the rest of their lives.  Periodic follow up visits to the doctor are recommended, even if individuals no longer feel ill.