Hepatitis B is a viral infection of the liver caused by the Hepatitis B virus. (See the image of the hepatitis B virus below.)
Hepatitis B infections can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness. Hepatitis B is usually spread when body fluid from a person infected with the virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. This can happen through sexual contact with an infected person or sharing needles, syringes, or other drug-injection equipment. Hepatitis B can also be passed from an infected mother to her baby at birth.
Blood that is used in blood transfusions is tested for the hepatitis B virus by blood banks before being made available for transfusion.
You can NOT get hepatitis B by:
- Shaking hands with an infected person
- Hugging an infected person
- Sitting next to an infected person
Hepatitis B can be either acute or chronic.
- Acute Hepatitis B virus infection is a short-term illness that occurs within the first 6 months after someone is exposed to the Hepatitis B virus. Acute infection can — but does not always — lead to chronic infection.
- Chronic Hepatitis B virus infection is a long-term illness that occurs when the Hepatitis B virus remains in a person’s body. Chronic Hepatitis B is a serious disease that can result in long-term health problems, including cirrhosis, liver failure and even death.
The best way to prevent Hepatitis B is by getting vaccinated.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B can make you feel like you have the flu.
- Feel tired
- Feel sick to your stomach
- Have a fever
- Not want to eat
- Have stomach pain
- Have diarrhea
Some people have:
- Dark yellow urine
- Light-colored stools
- Yellowish eyes and skin
Some people don’t have any symptoms.
If you have symptoms or think you might have hepatitis B, go to a doctor.
What are the tests for hepatitis B?
There are blood tests available to check for the presence of the hepatitis B virus, or evidence of past infection. Other tests that measure liver enzymes and bilirubin may be ordered to monitor the health of the liver and its function
A liver biopsy may be performed on those with chronic hepatitis B to determine the degree of liver damage. During a biopsy, a small piece of the liver is removed through a needle.
How is hepatitis B treated?
Treatment for hepatitis B may involve:
- A drug called interferon. It is given through shots. Most people are treated for 4 months.
- A drug called lamivudine. You take it by mouth once a day. Treatment is usually for one year.
- A drug called adefovir dipivoxil. You take it by mouth once a day. Treatment is usually for one year.
- Surgery. Over time, hepatitis B may cause your liver to stop working. If that happens, you will need a new liver. The surgery is called a liver transplant. It involves taking out the old, damaged liver and putting in a new, healthy one from a donor.
How can I protect myself from infection with the hepatitis B virus?
The hepatitis B vaccine (HBV vaccine) can be administered when someone ishealthy to prevent them from getting infected with the hepatitis B virus.
The hepatitis B vaccine is given through three shots. All babies should get the vaccine. Infants get the first shot within 12 hours after birth. They get the second shot at age 1 to 2 months and the third shot between ages 6 and 18 months.
Older children and adults can get the vaccine, too. They get three shots over 6 months. Children who have not had the vaccine should get it.
You need all of the shots to be protected. If you are traveling to other countries, make sure you get all the shots before you go. If you miss a shot, call your doctor or clinic right away to set up a new appointment.
You can also protect yourself and others from hepatitis B if you:
- Use a condom when you have sex
- Don’t share drug needles with anyone
- Wear gloves if you have to touch anyone’s blood
- Don’t use an infected person’s toothbrush, razor, or anything else that could have blood on it
- Make sure any tattooing or body piercing is done with clean tools