What causes Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis B virus. The virus is passed from one person to another through body fluids, such as blood, semen, and vaginal secretions.

Common causes of transmission include:

  • mother to child during childbirth
  • sexual contact
  • sharing needles among intravenous drug users
  • sharing razors or toothbrushes

How long does Hepatitis B last?

In over 90 percent of cases, hepatitis B patients recover on their own within 6 months with no lasting effects. This form is called acute hepatitis B. Those who are unable to clear the virus from their bodies have long-term or chronic hepatitis B. Chronic hepatitis B can lead to serious complications including fibrosis, cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer.

What are the symptoms of Hepatitis B?

Many people with acute hepatitis B and most people with chronic hepatitis B have no symptoms. Symptoms are often mild and include:

  • fatigue
  • fever
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • headache
  • muscle soreness
  • pain near liver
  • jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)

How is Hepatitis B diagnosed?

A blood test is used to diagnose hepatitis B. Many people never know they have been affected with the hepatitis B virus due to a lack of symptoms and inability to detect the virus in routine blood tests. Many people find out they have the disease after volunteering to donate blood. All blood donation centers test for current or past hepatitis B infection. Anyone who has ever been infected with the virus is rejected.

Who is at risk for Hepatitis B?

The following people are at risk for hepatitis B:

  • anyone exposed to the blood or body fluids of an infected individual
  • immigrants from Central and Southeast Asia, Africa, and East Europe where hepatitis B is common
  • children of immigrants from these regions due to passage from mother to child during birth or exposure to infected household members
  • anyone exposed to blood or body secretions on the job – healthcare worker, first aid or emergency worker, fire fighter, mortician, embalmer, police officer
  • anyone living in the same household as an infected person
  • anyone having unprotected sex with an infected person or have more than one sexual partner
  • anyone injecting illicit drugs
  • people with hemophilia
  • people who work or are a patient in a health care or long-term care facility
  • anyone who works or is incarcerated in a prison
  • anyone who gets a tattoo in unsterile conditions
  • anyone who stays in the regions with hepatitis B for several months
  • hemodialysis patients

What is the treatment for Hepatitis B?

Acute cases of hepatitis B are not treated as they usually resolve on their own. Those with acute hepatitis B must follow with their doctor for blood tests to ensure the virus clears from their body. Once the virus has been cleared, you are considered protected and will never get hepatitis B again.

Those with acute hepatitis B should:

  • slow down to match any loss of energy
  • eat a balanced diet
  • avoid alcohol or drugs/herbal supplements not prescribed by your doctor to prevent any further liver damage
  • notify your doctors or dentist
  • take precautions to prevent transmission with sexual partners

Some people with chronic hepatitis B may need antiviral medications to suppress the virus and prevent further liver damage. Even when no symptoms are present, it is important to see your doctor to evaluate the level of virus present and any liver damage. These results will determine if antiviral medications are necessary. People with chronic hepatitis B need to be seen by their doctor regularly for blood tests to monitor virus levels, liver damage and watch for early stage liver cancer.

How can Hepatitis B be prevented?

Vaccination is the best way to prevent hepatitis B. This vaccination is given in 3 doses; the first two are given a month apart with the final dose six months later. Vaccination is recommended for the following:

  • all newborns, infants, children and teenagers
  • health care and emergency workers
  • hemodialysis patients
  • patients with chronic liver disease
  • military personnel
  • morticians and embalmers
  • patients and staff at institutions for developmentally challenged
  • prison inmates
  • people with multiple sexual partners
  • men who have sex with men
  • injection drug users
  • sexual partners and household members of people with hepatitis B
  • international travelers who will be in close contact with people from countries with a high rate of hepatitis B
  • members of ethnic or racial groups with a high rate of hepatitis B (Asian Americans, African Americans, Latino Americans, Native Americans, Alaskan Natives)