Hepatitis B


Hepatitis B is a serious infection that causes liver inflammation (swelling and irritation) from the hepatitis B virus. It’s spread through blood, semen and other body fluids via sexual contact, sharing of needles, accidental needle sticks, and from mother to baby during childbirth. About 1.25 million people in the United States have hepatitis B. It’s the most common cause of scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) and liver cancer in the world.

Many people have become infected with hepatitis B and have no symptoms. Be sure to have a conversation with your physician if you have had or suspect you may have been exposed.

Many adults who have hepatitis B can recover from it. Recovery usually occurs within 6 months. This is known as an acute infection.

Some people have the infection for a longer period of time. This is known as a chronic infection. It can last an entire lifetime and lead to liver scarring, liver failure and liver cancer. If you get the virus as a child, you usually develop a chronic infection.


Symptoms of hepatitis B can include:

  • Appetite loss
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Joint pain
  • Fever
  • Abdominal pain
  • Jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pale stools


If you know you’ve been exposed to hepatitis B, tell your doctor right away. Treatment can be given within 24 hours of exposure to the virus, which may reduce the risk of infection.

To diagnose hepatitis B, your doctor will ask you about any symptoms you may have. He or she will perform a physical exam, and may order blood tests to diagnose hepatitis B and determine:

  • If you have an active or chronic infection and are at risk of passing the infection on to others
  • If you have ever had the infection and are immune to getting it again
  • If you’re immune to it because you had the vaccine
  • How much virus is in your body (This helps determine treatment.)

Services & Treatment

If you have a short-lived infection, you may not need treatment. But if you have chronic hepatitis B, you’ll be treated with antiviral medication. If your liver has been seriously damaged, you may need a liver transplant.

Since there is no cure for hepatitis B, prevention is important. Get the vaccine if you didn’t have it as a baby or child. If you have a child, be sure to get him or her vaccinated (most newborns and children in the United States are vaccinated). Other ways to prevent hepatitis B include:

  • Have sex only with partners you know do not have the infection or another sexually transmitted disease.
  • Use a latex or polyurethane condom with any sexual contact.
  • Check areas you travel to for hepatitis B risk and ask your doctor about the vaccine. You need 3 shots in 6 months to develop immunity, so plan ahead.
  • Do not share needles. Get help to stop using illegal drugs.
  • Use sterile needles if you give yourself shots.
  • Be careful if you get tattoos and piercings. Make sure equipment is sterile and the facility is reputable.

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