Hepatitis B

What is Hepatitis B?

Individuals who have hepatitis B have become infected with the hepatitis B virus and this condition causes an infection in the liver. Acute hepatitis B is a short-lived form of this condition but those who have chronic hepatitis will have the disease for a lifetime.

As the chronic form worsens, liver cancer or liver failure is probable. Hepatitis B is transmitted from one person to another through blood or body secretions, such as saliva, semen and breast milk. Most people become infected with hepatitis B through sexual intercourse and using contaminated needles.

What are the Symptoms of Hepatitis B?

One to four months after becoming infected with acute hepatitis B, individuals may have achy joints and feel extremely tired. They often have an upset stomach and lose their appetite. Jaundice may occur, in which the skin and eyes have a yellow tint. If the liver becomes inflamed, pain may be prominent in the upper right portion of the abdomen.

If the disease becomes chronic, additional symptoms may not appear until the liver becomes scarred due to the infection. This condition is called cirrhosis of the liver and the scarring prevents the liver from functioning normally. Common symptoms include weight loss, feeling weak and blood clotting issues.

Hepatitis B Causes

Hepatitis B is caused by the virus being spread through bodily fluids, such as blood, semen or even breast milk. Sexual contact with another person is the most common causes of Hepatitis B transmissions. When sex is unprotected, saliva, blood, vaginal secretions, and semen can enter the body of the individual that does not have Hepatitis B. Needle sharing is another serious and common way of transmitting this virus. Drugs injected using contaminated needles put users at risk for Hepatitis B.

Those who work in the health industry should be concerned and aware of Hepatitis B. Accidental needles can happen, and if they are contaminated with the Hepatitis B virus, the virus can spread. Sometimes children are born with the virus if their mother has it during pregnancy as well.

How is Hepatitis B Treated?

Individuals who believe they have been exposed to hepatitis B should visit a medical professional within 12 hours for an immune globulin injection. This can often prevent a hepatitis B infection. Acute hepatitis B leaves the body after a short time and treatment is not needed. If the virus stays in the body and becomes chronic, medications are often prescribed to slow down liver damage, since there is no cure for hepatitis B.

Vaccinations for hepatitis B are available and strongly recommended for adults who regularly come into contact with people who are carriers of the virus.

Hepatitis B Prevention

The best way to prevent this virus is to have the hepatitis B vaccination. This vaccine usually involves up to four injections during a six-month period. The vaccine is recommended for travelers, those with kidney or liver diseases, health care workers, newborns and children who were not vaccinated at birth. The vaccine is especially important for newborns whose mothers have the virus. The vaccination can often prevent infection in the child.

Other ways to prevent Hepatitis B include:

  • Knowing the status of your partner
  • Having safe sex with a polyurethane or latex condom
  • Avoiding illicit and intravenous drugs; if you continue to use, use sterile needles each time
  • Never sharing needles with anyone, even if you know them
  • Being careful when it comes to tattoos and piercings

If you plan on traveling to a country where hepatitis B is prevalent, make sure you receive the vaccine before you go, and don’t wait until the last minute for it. Your safety depends on it.

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Last Reviewed:
September 14, 2016
Last Updated:
January 11, 2018