About hepatitis B

What is hepatitis B?
  • Hepatitis B is a virus (HBV) that infects the liver and can cause liver inflammation called "hepatitis"
  • It can cause both a self-limiting (acute) and a life-long (chronic) illness
    • HBV infection lasting more than 6 months is considered chronic
  • Vaccination prevents hepatitis B infection
  • Acute infection in children
    • Is generally without any symptoms (silent) and therefore is rarely diagnosed
    • Most children (>90%) who are exposed will go on to develop chronic infection
  • Acute infection in adults
    • Many adults will have symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, dark-colored urine, jaundice (eyes and skin turn yellow), itching, fatigue, and joint and muscle pain
    • Most adults (>90%) recover within 6 months from the acute illness and do not develop the chronic infection
  • Chronic hepatitis B infection
    • More than a million Americans are chronically infected with the hepatitis B virus
    • Can cause liver damage and scarring
    • Over many years untreated hepatitis B may lead to a completely scarred liver (cirrhosis) and liver failure requiring liver transplantation
    • Hepatitis B can also lead to cancer of the liver, usually in persons with cirrhosis
    • Cirrhosis and liver cancer from hepatitis B lead to about 5,000 deaths per year in the United States
How is hepatitis B spread?
  • Hepatitis B virus is spread by coming into contact with blood, semen, and vaginal secretions
  • It can spread from the mother to her child during birth
  • Common causes of transmission include: unprotected sexual contact, sharing needles among injection drug users, re-use of contaminated needles and syringes
  • Sharing of razor blades or toothbrushes can also transmit hepatitis B
  • Blood transfusion is rarely a risk factor for transmission in the USA and Canada since it is routinely screened for hepatitis B
  • It is NOT spread through water, food, hugging, kissing, and casual contact such as in schools or the workplace
Who is at risk of getting hepatitis B?
  • Anyone can get hepatitis B by coming into contact with blood or body fluids from someone who is infected with hepatitis B
  • The following people are at greatest risk. Those who:
    • Have sex with an infected person
    • Have multiple sex partners
    • Have a sexually transmitted disease
    • Are men who have sexual contact with other men
    • Inject drugs or share needles, syringes, or other drug equipment
    • Live with a person who has chronic hepatitis B
    • Are infants born to infected mothers
    • Are exposed to blood and body fluids on the job
    • Are hemodialysis patients
    • Stay for a prolonged period of time in areas of the world with moderate to high rates of hepatitis B (see map)

  • Map of the world with areas that have the highest rates of hepatitis B in red, those with moderate rates in yellow, and those with lowest rates in green.