Hepatitis B

Reviewed by Ruthann Cunningham, MD, June 12, 2017

What is hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a virus that causes inflammation of the liver that can lead to liver failure, liver cancer and even death. In the early stage, it's known as acute hepatitis B. In the later stage, it's called chronic hepatitis B. The CDC estimates that there are 1.25 million people living in the U.S. with chronic hepatitis B virus infection. About 78,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.

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What are the symptoms of hepatitis B?

About half the people with a new hepatitis B infection have symptoms. When hepatitis B symptoms develop, it can feel like the flu. You may feel tired, loss of appetite, vomit, have belly pain, and feel itchy. Symptoms of chronic hepatitis B may be associated with liver inflammation and can lead to liver cancer.

How do you get hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is spread by contact with an infected person's blood or body fluids. This can happen during vaginal, anal, and oral sex or from sharing needles. People who have contact with blood, like healthcare professionals, or who share toothbrushes or razor blades with someone who is infected, are also at a greater risk for the virus. As this virus is spread through blood, people wonder if they can get it from a mosquito bite. The answer? No. There are no known cases worldwide of hepatitis B spread through mosquitoes.

How do I get tested for hepatitis B?

The hepatitis B surface antigen with confirmation by neutralization test is a blood test that screens for early signs of the infection. The test is simple, one quick blood draw taken by trained staff and you'll be on your way.

Is there a cure or treatment for hepatitis B?

There are two forms of hepatitis B: acute and chronic. Caught early, acute hepatitis B is treated with bed rest and fluids to prevent dehydration. The CDC states that nearly 95% of acute hepatitis B cases will resolve naturally, while the remaining 5% become chronic hepatitis B. This virus develops over time and is not curable, but there are treatments that can stop the symptoms from getting worse.

What if I don't get hepatitis B treatment?

If you have hepatitis B and don't know it, it can get worse. In some cases, chronic hepatitis B can lead to liver failure and death if it's not treated.

How can I prevent getting hepatitis B?

As with all STDs, use a condom every time you have sexual activity. Don't share needles, razor blades, or toothbrushes with an infected person. Also, there is a hepatitis B vaccine. It is recommended for children and is required for entrance to school. If you are at an increased risk for hepatitis B, you should be vaccinated. Risk factors include:

  • Healthcare workers and people who work with blood
  • Men who have sex with men
  • Sexually active people who are not in exclusive relationships
  • People who have an STD
  • IV drug users
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