- The word "hepatitis" means inflammation of the liver.
- Heavy alcohol use, toxins, some medications, some diseases and certain medical conditions, and bacterial and viral infection can all cause hepatitis.
- Hepatitis is also the name of a family of viral infections that affect the liver; the most common types are Hepatitis A, Hepatitus B, and Hepatitis C.
- Hepatitis is most often caused by a virus.
What is it?
- Hepatitis A (HAV), Hepatitis B (HBV), and Hepatitis C (HCV) are diseases caused by three different viruses.
- Although each can cause similar symptoms, they have different modes of transmission and can affect the liver differently.
- HAV appears only as an acute or newly occurring infection and does not become chronic. People with HAV usually improve without treatment.
- HBV and HCV can also begin as acute infections, but in some people, the virus remains in the body, resulting in chronic disease and long-term liver problems.
- There are vaccines to prevent Hepatitis A and B; however, there is not a vaccine for Hepatitis C.
- If a person has had one type of viral hepatitis in the past, it is still possible to get the other types.
- HBV is the liver disease caused by the Hepatitis B virus.
- HBV can range in severity from a mild illness, lasting a few weeks (acute), to a serious long-term (chronic) illness that can lead to liver disease or liver cancer.
- Hepatitis B (HBV) can be transmitted sexually.
- HBV is transmitted through contact with blood, semen, and other body fluids from having sex with an infected person; sharing contaminated needles to inject drugs; or from an infected mother to her newborn.
How do I get it?
HBV is transmitted
- by having sex with an infected partner through their blood, semen, vaginal fluid, and other body fluids
- by sharing contaminated needles, syringes, or other drug-injection equipment
- by using/sharing contaminated tattoo needles
- by sharing items such as razors or toothbrushes with an infected person
- by direct contact with the blood or open sores of an infected person
- from an infected mother to her baby during birth
- from exposure to blood from needlesticks or other sharp instruments (usually on the job in a healthcare setting)
HBV is not spread through
- sharing eating utensils
- hugging, kissing, or holding hands
- coughing, sneezing, or tears
- contaminated food or water (unlike Hepatitis A)
The Hepatitis B virus is 50 to 100 times more infectious than HIV.
How common is it?
- In 2010, there were an estimated 35,000 new HBV infections in the United States.
- The official number of reported Hepatitis B cases is much lower.
- The number of acute HBV infections has been declining each due to widespread vaccination of children and uninfected adults.
- Many people don’t know they are infected or may not have symptoms and therefore never seek the attention of medical providers.
- 1.4 million people in the U.S. may have chronic HBV and may not know it.
- Up to 25% of people with chronic HBV develop serious liver problems including cirrhosis (liver damage), liver failure, and liver cancer.
- Every year up to 4,000 people in the United States and more than 600,000 people worldwide die from HBV-related liver diseases.
What happens if I get it?
Although anyone can get Hepatitis B, some people are at greater risk, such as 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 on the job
- Are hemodialysis patients
- Travel to countries with moderate to high rates of HBV
If you think that you might have been exposed to the Hepatitis B virus, call your healthcare provider.
If a person who has been exposed to HBV virus gets the Hepatitis B vaccine and/or a shot called “HBIG” (Hepatitis B immune globulin) within 24 hours, HBV infection may be prevented.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms of Acute Hepatitis B:
- On average, symptoms appear 90 days (or 3 months) after exposure, but they can appear any time between 6 weeks and 6 months after exposure.
- The majority of adults (70%) develop symptoms from acute HBV infection, but many young children do not.
- Symptoms usually last a few weeks, but some people can be ill for as long as 6 months.
- Many people with Hepatitis B have no symptoms, but these people can still spread the virus.
- Adults and children over the age of 5 years are more likely to have symptoms.
Symptoms of acute Hepatitis B, if they appear, can include:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Dark urine
- Clay-colored bowel movements
- Joint pain
- Jaundice (yellow color in the skin or the eyes)
Symptoms of Chronic Hepatitis B:
- Most individuals with chronic HBV remain symptom free for as long as 20 or 30 years.
- Some people have ongoing symptoms similar to acute Hepatitis B.
- Up to 25% of people with chronic HBV develop serious liver conditions such as cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) or liver cancer.
- Even as their liver becomes diseased, some people still do not have symptoms (although certain blood tests for liver function might begin to show some abnormalities).
- Chronic Hepatitis B is a serious disease that can result in long-term health problems, including liver damage, liver failure, liver cancer, or even death.
- Approximately 2,000–4,000 people die every year from HBV-related liver disease.
Diagnosis and Treatment
How is HBV infection diagnosed?
- Talk to your health professional. Since many people with Hepatitis B do not have symptoms, doctors diagnose the disease by one or more blood tests. These tests look for the presence of antibodies or antigens and can help determine whether you:
- have acute or chronic infection
- have recovered from infection
- are immune to Hepatitis B
- could benefit from vaccination
How is Acute HBV treated?
- There is no medication available to treat acute Hepatitis B.
- During this short-term infection, doctors usually recommend rest, adequate nutrition, and fluids.
- Some people may need to be hospitalized.
How is Chronic HBV treated?
- People with chronic Hepatitis B virus infection should seek the care or consultation of a healthcare provider experienced with treating HBV.
- People with chronic Hepatitis B should be monitored regularly for signs of liver disease and evaluated for possible treatment.
- Several medications have been approved for HBV treatment, and new drugs are in development.
- Not every person with chronic HBV needs to be on medication, and the drugs may cause side effects in some patients.
- People with chronic HBV should avoid alcohol because it can cause additional liver damage.
- They also should check with a healthcare professional before taking any prescription pills, supplements, or over-the-counter medications, as these can potentially damage the liver.
Can HBV be prevented?
- The best way to prevent Hepatitis B is by getting the Hepatitis B vaccine.
- The Hepatitis B vaccine is safe and effective, is usually given as 3-4 shots over a 6-month period, and stimulates a person’s immune system to protect against HBV by making antibodies that are stored in the person's blood.
- These antibodies will then fight off the infection if a person is exposed to the Hepatitis B virus in the future.
Hepatitis B vaccination is recommended for:
- All infants, starting with the first dose of HBV vaccine at birth
- All children and adolescents younger than 19 years of age who have not been vaccinated
- People whose sex partners have Hepatitis B
- Sexually active persons who are not in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship.
- Persons seeking evaluation or treatment for a sexually transmitted disease
- Men who have sexual contact with other men
- People who share needles, syringes, or other drug-injection equipment
- People who have close household contact with someone infected with the Hepatitis B virus
- Health care and public safety workers at risk for exposure to blood or blood-contaminated body fluids on the job
- People with end-stage renal disease, including predialysis, hemodialysis, peritoneal dialysis, and home dialysis patients
- Residents and staff of facilities for developmentally disabled persons
- Travelers to regions with moderate or high rates of HBV
- People with chronic liver disease
- People with HIV infection
- Anyone who wishes to be protected from Hepatitis B virus infection.