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.
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: