Hepatitis B

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 by 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.

How can hepatitis B be prevented?

There is a very safe and effective vaccine. It is recommended for all children aged 0 months to 18 years and for people who are at risk for hepatitis B (see below).

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 six 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

Do people usually recover from hepatitis B?

Most adults (90 percent) recover from hepatitis B after several months. They clear the infection from their bodies and become immune. People who are immune will not get hepatitis B again and they cannot pass hepatitis B to others.

Who is a carrier of hepatitis B?

About 10 percent of adults and most children under 5 years old infected with hepatitis B are unable to clear the infection from their bodies. These individuals no longer have symptoms but still carry the virus in their body. A carrier of hepatitis B can infect others. About 1.25 million people in the U.S. carry hepatitis B for life.

Is there any treatment for hepatitis B?

Some people who are carriers have benefited from treatment.  Your health care provider can discuss treatment with you.

If you are pregnant, should you worry about hepatitis B?

Pregnant women who are infected with hepatitis B can spread the disease to their babies. Most babies will develop hepatitis B infection if they don't get special medicine and hepatitis B vaccine shortly after birth.