The hepatitis B virus (HBV), also called Hep B, is a serious infection that affects the liver.
About 1.25 million people in the United States are currently living with hepatitis B. It’s the most common cause of scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) and liver cancer in the world.
Many adults who have the hep B virus can recover fully from it, usually within 6 months. This is known as acute hepatitis B infection.
However, some people have the infection for a longer period of time – this is known as chronic hepatitis B infection. It can last an entire lifetime and lead to liver scarring, liver failure, and liver cancer. If you contract the virus as a child, you usually develop chronic HBV.
It’s important to seek treatment early if you’re exposed to the hepatitis B virus to increase your chances of a smooth recovery. If you think you’ve been exposed, find a GI specialist near you.
The hepatitis B virus can be transmitted through:
Hepatitis B symptoms can include:
Many people who become infected with hepatitis B experience no symptoms. Be sure to have a conversation with your doctor if you have been or suspect you may have been exposed.
If you know you’ve been exposed to hepatitis B, tell your doctor right away. HBV 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. They’ll perform a physical exam, and may order blood or laboratory tests to diagnose hepatitis B, such as:
These hepatitis B tests are important because they determine:
If you have a short-lived hepatitis B 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 due to hepatitis, you may need a liver transplant.
Since there is no cure for hepatitis B, prevention is important. Get the hepatitis B vaccine if you didn’t have it as a baby or child. If you have children, be sure to get them vaccinated (most newborns and children in the United States are vaccinated). Other ways to prevent hepatitis B include: