Hepatitis B – Definition
Hepatitis B is a liver disease. It is caused by the hepatitis B virus. Most hepatitis B infections clear up within 1-2 months without treatment. When the infection lasts more than six months, it can develop into chronic hepatitis B, which can lead to:
- Chronic inflammation of the liver
- Cirrhosis (scarring of the liver)
- Liver cancer
- Liver failure
Hepatitis B – Causes
The Hepatitis B virus is spread through contact with body fluids of an infected person. Fluids include:
- Vaginal fluids
A woman with hepatitis can pass the virus on to her baby during birth. The hepatitis B virus is not spread through food or water.
Hepatitis B – Risk Factors
Factors that may increase your risk of getting hepatitis B include:
- Having sex with someone infected with hepatitis B or who is a carrier of hepatitis B
- Injecting illicit drugs, especially with shared needles
- Having more than one sexual partner
- Being a man who has sex with men
- Living in the same house with someone who is infected with hepatitis B
- Having a job that involves contact with body fluids, such as:
- First aid or emergency workers
- Healthcare workers
- Funeral directors
- Medical personnel
- Dental assistants
- Police personnel
- Prison workers
- Having a sexually transmitted disease at the time you come in contact with hepatitis B
- Traveling to areas where hepatitis B is common, such as China, southeast Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa
- Receiving a blood transfusion prior to 1992 (the year a more reliable test to screen blood was developed)
- Receiving multiple transfusions of blood or blood products (risk is greatly reduced with modern blood screening techniques)
- Being a patient in a hospital or long-term care facility
- Being incarcerated in a prison
- Being bitten by someone whose saliva contains the virus and who breaks the skin when biting
- Receiving hemodialysis treatment
Hepatitis B – Symptoms
Symptoms that may appear about 25-180 days after you are exposed to the virus include:
- Yellowing skin and eyes ( jaundice)
- Fatigue that lasts for weeks or months
- Abdominal pain in the area of the liver (upper right side)
- Loss of appetite
- Joint pain
- Low-grade fever
- Dark urine and light-colored stool
- Widespread itching
Hepatitis B – Diagnosis
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Hepatitis B is diagnosed with blood tests. These blood tests are also used to monitor its effects on the liver.
For chronic cases, a liver biopsy may be needed. A biopsy is the removal of a sample of tissue for testing.
Hepatitis B – Treatment
Symptoms can be treated with medicine. If you have an uncomplicated case, you can expect to recover completely.
If you have chronic hepatitis B, you may be treated with medicine. This will help reduce the activity of the virus. It can also prevent liver failure.
If your liver is severely damaged, then you may need a liver transplant.
- Interferon Alfa-2b (Intron A) injection
- Lamivudine (Epivir-HBV) oral medicine
- Adefovir (Hepsera) oral medicine
- Entecavir (Baraclude) oral medicine
If you have chronic hepatitis B, you should avoid anything that can further injure the liver, including:
- Certain medicines, dietary supplements, and herbs
If you have chronic hepatitis B, you should prevent spreading the infection to others by:
- Telling your doctors, dentists, and sexual partner(s) that you have hepatitis B
- Not donating blood or organs for transplant
- Discussing your hepatitis B status with your doctor during pregnancy or before becoming pregnant to insure the baby receives treatment
Hepatitis B – Prevention
Hepatitis B Vaccine
There is a vaccine to prevent hepatitis B. This vaccine, a series of three injections, is routinely given to newborns. Children and teens who were not vaccinated as babies can still receive the shots.
It is also recommended that adults who are at high-risk (eg, having multiple sex partners, injecting street drugs, or working in the healthcare field) receive the vaccine, as well.
Other Prevention Strategies
- Use condoms or abstain from sex.
- Limit your number of sexual partners.
- Do not inject drugs. If you use IV drugs, get treatment to help you stop. Never share needles or syringes.
- Do not share personal items that might have blood on them, such as:
- Manicuring tools
- Pierced earrings
- If you get a tattoo or body piercing, make sure the artist or piercer properly sterilizes the equipment. You might get infected if the tools have someone else’s blood on them.
- If you are a healthcare or public safety worker:
- Get vaccinated against hepatitis B.
- Always follow routine barrier precautions
- Safely handle needles and other sharp instruments
- Wear gloves when touching or cleaning up body fluids on personal items, such as:
- Cover open cuts or wounds.
- If you are pregnant, have a blood test for hepatitis B. Infants born to mothers with hepatitis B should be treated within 12 hours after birth.
- Ask your doctor about hepatitis delta virus. It is transmitted in the same way as hepatitis B. If you contract both viruses, you could become very ill or die. Having chronic hepatitis B puts you at greater risk for infections with hepatitis delta.