Hepatitis B is a serious disease caused by the
hepatitis B virus that attacks the liver and can be spread to others. It
can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a
serious, lifelong illness.
Types of hepatitis B
- 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, and even death.
Contact and Spread
Hepatitis B is spread when blood, semen, or other body
fluid infected with the hepatitis B virus enters the body of a person
who is not infected. People can become infected with the virus during
activities such as:
- Birth (spread from an infected mother to her baby
- Sex with an infected partner
- Sharing needles, syringes, or other
- Sharing items such as razors or toothbrushes with
an infected person
- Direct contact with the blood of an infected
- Exposure to blood from needle-sticks or other
Hepatitis B virus is not spread by sharing eating
utensils, breast feeding, hugging, kissing, holding hands, coughing, or
On average, symptoms appear 90 days (or 3 months)
after exposure, but they can appear any time between 6 weeks and 6
months after exposure. Symptoms usually last a few weeks, but some
people can be ill for as long as 6 months. Many people with hepatitis B
have no symptoms, but these people can still spread the virus. Although
a majority of adults develop symptoms from acute hepatitis B virus
infection, many young children do not. Adults and children over the age
of 5 years are more likely to have symptoms.
Symptoms of acute hepatitis B, if they
appear, can include:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Dark urine
- Clay-colored bowel movements
- Joint pain
- Jaundice (yellow color of the skin or eyes)
Symptoms of chronic hepatitis B:
Some people have ongoing symptoms similar to acute hepatitis B, but
most individuals with chronic hepatitis B remain symptom free for as
long as 20 or 30 years. About 15%–25% of people with chronic
hepatitis B develop serious liver conditions, such as cirrhosis
(scarring of the liver) or liver cancer.
Since many people with hepatitis B do not have symptoms, doctors
diagnose the disease by one or more blood tests.
There is no medication available to treat acute hepatitis
B. During this short-term infection, doctors usually recommend
rest, adequate nutrition, and fluids, although some people may need
to be hospitalized.
Several medications have been approved for chronic hepatitis B
treatment and new drugs are in development.
Several medications have been approved for chronic
hepatitis B treatment and new drugs are in development.
The best way to prevent hepatitis B is by getting vaccinated.
The hepatitis B vaccine is safe and effective and
is usually a series of shots given over a 6-month period.
Hepatitis B vaccination is recommended for:
- All infants, starting with the first dose of
hepatitis B vaccine at birth and completing the series by 6-18
months of age
- All children and adolescents younger than 19
years of age who have not been vaccinated
- People whose sex partners have hepatitis B
- Sexually active persons who are not in a
long-term, mutually monogamous relationship
- Persons seeking evaluation or treatment for a
sexually transmitted disease
- Men who have sexual contact with other men
- People who share needles, syringes, or other
- People who live with a person infected with
the hepatitis B virus
- Health care and public safety workers at risk
for exposure to blood or blood-contaminated body fluids on the
Kidney dialysis patients
- Residents and staff of facilities for
developmentally disabled persons
regions with moderate or high rates of Hepatitis B
- People with chronic liver disease
- People with HIV infection
- Anyone who wishes to be protected from
hepatitis B virus infection
More Prevention Recommendations:
- Practice “safer” sex. If you are having sex,
but not with one steady partner, use latex condoms correctly
every time you have sex.
- Don’t share needles or syringes.
- Don’t share razors or toothbrushes.
- If you are getting a tattoo or body piercing,
make certain that the artist or piercer sterilizes needles and
equipment, uses disposable gloves, and washes hands properly.
- All pregnant women should get a blood test
for hepatitis B early in their pregnancy, since a woman who has
hepatitis B can spread the virus to her baby during birth.
- If you have ever tested positive for the
hepatitis B virus, experts recommend that you not donate blood,
organs, or semen because this can put the recipient at great
risk for getting hepatitis.
For more information regarding hepatitis B: