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Hepatitis B

What is hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is an infection caused by the Hepatitis B Virus (HBV). It can infect both men and women. The virus infects the liver and is spread through semen, vaginal fluids, blood, and urine.

How is hepatitis B spread?

Hepatitis B is spread by direct contact with blood and other bodily fluids containing blood. It is very contagious. Sexually, it can be spread during:

  • Vaginal sex (both partners)
  • Anal sex (both partners)
  • Performing oral sex on a penis (rare)

Non-sexually, hepatitis B can be spread through:

  • Sharing needles (or other things used to inject drugs) with infected blood
  • Sharing tattoo, body piercing, or acupuncture needles
  • Accidental needle sticks that has been used by a person with Hepatitis B
  • Sharing things that may have blood on them (toothbrushes, dental floss, razors, nail files)
  • Through bites and blood transfusions (very rare)

Hepatitis B can also be passed from mother to child during childbirth.

How can I prevent getting hepatitis B?

  • Get the hepatitis B vaccine (a 3 dose vaccine)
  • Abstain from (avoid) having sex
  • If you have vaginal or anal sex, use a latex male condom or female condom
  • If you have oral sex, use condoms or a latex or plastic barrier
  • Avoid direct contact with bodily fluids (blood or any fluid that could contain blood)
  • Don't share objects such as needles, razors, or toothbrushes if they are used by a person who might be infected

If I have hepatitis B, how can I prevent giving it to someone else?

  • Ask you partner(s) if they have been vaccinated for hepatitis B vaccine. If not, suggest that they get vaccinated at their doctor's office
  • If you have vaginal or anal sex, use latex male condoms or female condoms
  • If you have oral sex, use condoms or a latex or plastic barrier
  • Don't share your needles, razors, or toothbrushes if there's a chance they might be infected

Can I still infect others with hepatitis B if I don't have symptoms?

Yes. You can infect others with hepatitis B even if you don't have symptoms.

What are the stages of hepatitis B?

There are two stages of a hepatitis B infection: an acute infection and a chronic infection.

Acute infection: When people first get hepatitis B, it is called an acute infection. Most people who get acute hepatitis B clear the virus on their own, meaning that the body gets rid of it without treatment. Some people who have acute hepatitis B do not clear the virus and end up with a chronic hepatitis B infection.

Chronic infection: If the virus is not cleared from the body after the acute infection, a chronic infection will develop. Chronic hepatitis B can cause liver damage, scarring of the liver, and death.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis B?

Symptoms of acute infection differ from symptoms of chronic infection, and almost half of all people with hepatitis B do not get symptoms.

Acute infection:

  • Jaundice (a yellowing of the eyes and skin)
  • Fatigue (feeling tired)
  • Nausea (upset stomach) and loss of appetite
  • Poor blood clotting (if cut, it takes longer than normal for bleeding to stop)
  • Swollen stomach or ankles
  • Easy bruising
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Light-colored feces
  • Dark urine

Chronic infection:

  • Jaundice (a yellowing of the eyes and skin)
  • Fatigue (feeling tired)
  • Nausea and loss of appetite
  • Taking longer than normal time for bleeding to stop
  • Swollen stomach or ankles
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Angiomas (harmless growths with visible blood vessels – look like red bumps on skin)

What is the treatment for hepatitis B?

There is no treatment for acute (short-term) hepatitis B, but there are things you can do to feel better. Doctors recommend that you rest, drink plenty of water, avoid alcohol and drugs, and soothe itchy skin (ask your doctor if you can try a nonprescription medicine like Benadryl to help with itchiness). More than 9 out of 10 people with an acute hepatitis B infection end up recovering on their own.

If a hepatitis B infection becomes chronic, it can be treated with medications that try to slow or stop the virus from damaging the liver. Treatment is different for each person with chronic hepatitis B but can include medications such as: interferon, peginterferon, lamivudine, telbivudine, adefovir, or entecavir.

What will happen if I have chronic hepatitis B, but I don't get treated?

If you have chronic hepatitis B, not taking the medication can cause liver failure, cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver cancer, and death.

How can I get tested for hepatitis B?

You can get tested for hepatitis B at a doctor’s office or at an STD clinic.

There are several different ways to test for hepatitis B. A blood test will tell you if you currently have the virus. The blood test can determine if you have acute or chronic hepatitis. A liver biopsy, ultrasound, and liver function tests can test for liver damage cause by a chronic hepatitis B infection.