Hepatitis B

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female gender symbolHepatitis B virus (HBV) infects the liver. There’s a very effective vaccine that prevents HBV infection. The vaccine is usually given to babies, but some teens, especially those from other countries may have not received the vaccine. Check with your health care provider to make sure you’ve received all of your shots.

Who gets Hepatitis B?

Anyone can get Hepatitis B. People who have not been immunized are at risk, especially if they have unprotected sex, share needles or if they get a tattoo from someone that does not properly sterilize the equipment.

How is Hepatitis B spread?

Hepatitis B can live in all body fluids, but it’s mostly spread through contact with blood, semen, and vaginal fluids. The virus can also live in body fluids such as saliva, tears, and breast milk. HBV is most often spread through sharing needles and through sexual contact.

You can get infected by:

  • Having sex (vaginal, anal, or oral) with an infected person
  • Sharing razors, toothbrushes, and nail clippers with someone who is infected
  • Sharing needles to inject drugs with an infected person
  • Using non-sterile needles or equipment to do tattooing, ear piercing, or acupuncture
  • A mother infected with Hepatitis B can also pass the virus on to her baby during childbirth. Babies should receive special treatment right after birth to prevent infection.

What are the symptoms of Hepatitis B?

It can take 6 weeks to 6 months after you’re exposed to Hepatitis B virus for symptoms to appear. Most people have symptoms about 3 months after exposure. Some people have no symptoms and then become immune (meaning they’re protected against future infections of Hepatitis B). Others get the virus and never become immune. They are called “carriers” and can continue to pass the virus to others, even years later.

Symptoms of HBV infection can include:

  • Tiredness/no energy
  • Loss of appetite/weight loss
  • Fever
  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice)
  • Aching muscles or joints
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Light-colored bowel movements (stools)
  • Tender, swollen liver (found during exam by health care provider)

How is Hepatitis B diagnosed?

Hepatitis B is diagnosed by a blood test done by your health care provider.

Is there a cure for Hepatitis B?

No, there isn’t a cure for Hepatitis B, but most people recover and have no symptoms after 6 months. Treatment involves getting enough rest, eating a healthy diet, and avoiding alcohol. Your health care provider will check to make sure your liver is working normally by doing a liver function test on a blood sample.

Some people carry the virus without symptoms and can pass it on to others. Hepatitis B can also cause symptoms that last for a long time, and can cause permanent liver disease, including cancer of the liver.

How can I prevent spreading Hepatitis B?

If you’re infected, don’t have sex or have close contact (ex.: kissing) with anyone until your health care provider says it’s okay. Don’t share personal items, such as razors and toothbrushes. You can have Hepatitis B and not even know it and be able to pass it on to others. Make sure you tell all current and past sexual partners that you have Hepatitis B, since you could have infected them before you knew you had it. Encourage them to see their health care provider as soon as possible to get tested and check if they’ve already been vaccinated. They will likely need a booster dose of the HBV vaccine and if they haven’t finished their series of shots for HBV, and a dose of gamma globulin as well. Once your health care provider says it’s okay to have sex, be sure to use latex condoms (polyurethane for those allergic to latex) during oral, anal, or vaginal sex.

How can I avoid getting Hepatitis B?

Your best protection against Hepatitis B is a vaccine. It’s given in 3 separate shots. You need to have all of them for the vaccine to best protect you. You can lower your risk of getting Hepatitis B by not having sexual intercourse, or by using a latex condom if you do have sex. If you find out that your partner has Hepatitis B, check with your health care provider to find out if you need need gamma globulin and/or the vaccine.

You can also lower your risk of getting Hepatitis B by:

  • Not sharing needles or syringes
  • Not sharing instruments (such as needles) used in ear piercing, tattooing, and hair removal
  • Not sharing toothbrushes, straws or razors