Hepatitis B is a serious liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). For some people, hepatitis B infection becomes chronic, meaning it lasts more than six months. Having chronic hepatitis B increases your risk of developing liver failure, liver cancer or cirrhosis — a condition that permanently scars of the liver.
Most adults with hepatitis B recover fully, even if their signs and symptoms are severe. Infants and children are more likely to develop a chronic (long-lasting) hepatitis B infection.
A vaccine can prevent hepatitis B, but there's no cure if you have the condition. If you're infected, taking certain precautions can help prevent spreading the virus to others.
Signs and symptoms of hepatitis B range from mild to severe. They usually appear about one to four months after you've been infected, although you could see them as early as two weeks post-infection. Some people, usually young children, may not have any symptoms.
Hepatitis B signs and symptoms may include:
If you know you've been exposed to hepatitis B, contact your doctor immediately. A preventive treatment may reduce your risk of infection if you receive the treatment within 24 hours of exposure to the virus.
If you think you have signs or symptoms of hepatitis B, contact your doctor.
Hepatitis B infection is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). The virus is passed from person to person through blood, semen or other body fluids. It does not spread by sneezing or coughing.
Common ways that HBV can spread are:
Hepatitis B infection may be either short-lived (acute) or long lasting (chronic).
The younger you are when you get hepatitis B — particularly newborns or children younger than 5 — the higher your risk of the infection becoming chronic. Chronic infection may go undetected for decades until a person becomes seriously ill from liver disease.
Hepatitis B spreads through contact with blood, semen or other body fluids from an infected person. Your risk of hepatitis B infection increases if you:
Having a chronic HBV infection can lead to serious complications, such as:
The hepatitis B vaccine is typically given as three or four injections over six months. You can't get hepatitis B from the vaccine.
The hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for:
Other ways to reduce your risk of HBV include:
Your doctor will examine you and look for signs of liver damage, such as yellowing skin or belly pain. Tests that can help diagnose hepatitis B or its complications are:
Doctors sometimes test certain healthy people for hepatitis B infection because the virus can damage the liver before causing signs and symptoms. Talk to your doctor about screening for hepatitis B infection if you:
If you know you've been exposed to the hepatitis B virus and aren't sure if you've been vaccinated, call your doctor immediately. An injection of immunoglobulin (an antibody) given within 12 hours of exposure to the virus may help protect you from getting sick with hepatitis B. Because this treatment only provides short-term protection, you also should get the hepatitis B vaccine at the same time, if you never received it.
If your doctor determines your hepatitis B infection is acute — meaning it is short-lived and will go away on its own — you may not need treatment. Instead, your doctor might recommend rest, proper nutrition and plenty of fluids while your body fights the infection. In severe cases, antiviral drugs or a hospital stay is needed to prevent complications.
Most people diagnosed with chronic hepatitis B infection need treatment for the rest of their lives. Treatment helps reduce the risk of liver disease and prevents you from passing the infection to others. Treatment for chronic hepatitis B may include:
Other drugs to treat hepatitis B are being developed.
If you've been infected with hepatitis B, take steps to protect others from the virus.
If you've been diagnosed with hepatitis B infection, the following suggestions might help you cope:
You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner. However, in some cases, you may be referred immediately to a specialist. Doctors who specialize in treating hepatitis B include:
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment.
Listing questions for your doctor can help you make the most of your time together. For hepatitis B infection, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions, including: