Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is caused by infection with the hepatitis B virus. 

Signs and Symptoms

Most people are not aware that they have hepatitis B and they have no signs or symptoms. For this reason, hepatitis B is often called the  "silent infection".

 

If people do experience symptoms or warning signs, they may include: 

 

Jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes, dark colored urine)

Light-colored stool (feces, poop)

Fever

Fatigue

Nausea

Vomiting

Loss of appetite

Belly pain

When a person is first infected, it is called an "acute infection". Some people are able to fight off the infection in the first few months and recover.  If the virus is detectable in the blood for more than 6 months, the person is considered to have a "chronic infection".  Age is a risk factor for developing chronic infection. According to the World Health Organization:

90% of infants exposed to hepatitis B will develop chronic infections

Between 25% - 50% of children between the ages of 1 and 5 years will develop chronic infections

5%-10% of healthy adults will develop chronic infection. 

Infection with hepatitis B can lead to slow, progressive liver damage. The liver damage can include inflammation, liver scarring (fibrosis), severe liver damage, and even liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma). 

Hepatitis B is the leading cause of liver cancer and the 10th leading cause of death in the world.

Prevention and Transmission

Hepatitis B is transmitted from person-to-person through contact with infected blood or bodily fluids. Hepatitis B virus(HBV) is very infectious- meaning if you are exposed to the virus; you are likely to be infected.

Transmission of HBV can occur during:

  • Unprotected sex

  • Birth from an infected woman to her newborn

  • Direct blood to blood contact

  • Use of unsterile needles for drug- use, tattoos, piercing, & acupuncture

  • Sharing razors, toothbrushes, pierced earrings

  • Use of unsterile medical equipment

HBV is NOT transmitted via casual contact (coughing, sneezing, hugging). 

Hepatitis B can remain infectious outside the body in dried blood or bodily fluid for days.

Avoiding exposure to infected blood & bodily fluids can reduce the risk of acquiring hepatitis B.

Everyone is at risk  so vaccination is important for preventing hepatitis B. 

The vaccine is safe, effective, & available for children & adults.

Three doses of the vaccine are required for optimal protection.

 

Call your primary care provider to schedule an appointment for a hepatitis B vaccination.

Treatment for Hepatitis B

If you believe you may have been exposed to hepatitis B, call your physician immediately. The physician may order a shot of hepatitis B immune globulin and begin the vaccination series to prevent you from developing the infection. 

 

Typically, treatment for acute hepatitis is not needed and most people recover completely. 

Several antiviral drugs are available to treat chronic hepatitis B infections. These medications are designed to reduce the amount of virus in the body either by boosting the immune response or by interfering with ability of the virus to reproduce itself.  Reducing the amount of virus decreases the risk of liver damage from hepatitis B and can even help the liver recover from damage. Treatment decisions should be made on an individual basis with a doctor knowledgeable about hepatitis B treatment. 

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