Hepatitis B is a disease of your liver caused by the hepatitis B virus. Your liver is the largest organ inside your body. Located under your right ribcage, your liver has many important functions including filtering harmful chemicals from your blood, helping you fight infections, helping digest your food, and storing nutrients, vitamins, and energy. If your liver gets infected by the virus, it becomes inflamed. Inflammation is your body's response to an injury or infection. Inflammation from the hepatitis B virus can affect your liver’s ability to do its job.
How You Might Get Hepatitis B
The virus that causes hepatitis B spreads from person to person through contact with blood, semen, or vaginal fluid. Because the virus can live outside the body for a long time, objects like needles or razors can spread the virus if they are used by an infected person and then shared by others.
People at high risk for hepatitis B include:
- Babies born to a mother with hepatitis B
- People who live with someone with hepatitis B
- Healthcare workers who are exposed to body fluids of people infected with the virus
- Users of injection drugs
- People who have many sex partners
- Men who have sex with men
- Persons with HIV and those with other sexually transmitted infections
- Persons with end-stage kidney disease including those receiving dialysis
- Persons aged 19-59 with diabetes
- Travelers to countries that have a high rate of hepatitis B
Others who are at higher risk include workers or people in any of the following facilities or institutions that offer services for:
- Persons with developmental disabilities
- People with sexually transmitted infections
- People seeking HIV testing or treatment
- Those seeking drug abuse treatment and prevention or for users of injection drugs
- Men having sexual relations with men
- People in jails or correctional facilities
- Patients receiving chronic hemodialysis, or a treatment method for kidney failure.
Signs and Symptoms
It takes from 30 to 180 days for an infection to develop after the virus gets in your body. Most adults clear the virus out of their body within six months and never have any symptoms. However, babies and children are more likely to develop a long lasting type of infection called chronic hepatitis B. A few adults also develop chronic hepatitis B.
Signs and symptoms include:
- Muscle aches
- Being very tired
- Upset stomach
- Loss of appetite
- Dark colored urine
- Yellow colored eyes or skin, called jaundice
Your doctor may suspect hepatitis B from your symptoms, but you will need to have blood tests to be sure. The blood tests for hepatitis B measure proteins called antibodies that go up when your body responds to the hepatitis B infection. Blood tests may also be done to see if the infection is affecting the functions of your liver.
If your blood tests suggest that you have chronic hepatitis B, you may need to have a test called a biopsy. This involves using a needle inserted into your liver to take out a piece of liver tissue. It will then be looked at under a microscope to see if there is liver damage.
If you have chronic hepatitis B, you may need to be treated to prevent liver cancer, liver failure, and scarring of the liver, or cirrhosis. Shots of the antiviral drugs interferon or peg-interferon can be given to lower or get rid of the virus. Other antivirals taken by mouth can help fight it. If your liver becomes severely damaged, liver transplant surgery may be needed. You should avoid alcohol and check with your doctor before taking any over-the-counter drugs or supplements.
You can prevent hepatitis B infection by getting the hepatitis B vaccine. When your body's defense system learns how to fight off an infection through a vaccine it is called immunization. It takes three shots of the vaccine to prevent infection. People who should receive the vaccine include:
- All babies by age six months
- Children under age 19 who have not been vaccinated
- Adults who are at high risk
What You Can Do
Many people who have hepatitis B have no symptoms and don't know that they are infected. Even if you don't have symptoms, you could still develop liver damage. If you think you may be at risk, ask your doctor to test you for the virus. Here are other steps to take:
- Ask your doctor about the hepatitis B vaccine if you have not been vaccinated.
- Let your doctor know if you have been exposed to hepatitis B or have symptoms of hepatitis B.
- Always use a condom during sex.
- Never share any needles.
- Never share any personal items, such as a toothbrush or razor, from an infected person.
What We Have Learned
Hepatitis B is a virus that can spread through contact with an infected person’s blood.
True or False
The answer is True
There are always clear symptoms that show you might have Hepatitis B.
True or False
The answer is False
One step to prevent hepatitis B is to not share a toothbrush or razor with an infected person.
True or False
The answer is True