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Hepatitis B

What is hepatitis?

“Hepatitis” means inflammation of the liver. Toxins, certain drugs, some diseases, heavy alcohol use, and bacterial and viral infections can all cause hepatitis. Hepatitis is also the name of a family of viral infections that affect the liver; the most common types are Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C.

What is the difference between Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C are diseases caused by three different viruses. Although each can cause similar symptoms, they have different modes of transmission and can affect the liver differently. Hepatitis A appears only as an acute or newly occurring infection and does not become chronic. People with Hepatitis A usually improve without treatment. Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C can also begin as acute infections, but in some people, the virus remains in the body, resulting in chronic disease and long-term liver problems. There are vaccines to prevent Hepatitis A and B; however, there is not one for Hepatitis C. If a person has had one type of viral hepatitis in the past, it is still possible to get the other types.

What is Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a contagious liver disease that ranges in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness. It results from infection with the Hepatitis B virus. Hepatitis B can be either “acute” or “chronic.”

Acute Hepatitis B virus infection is a short-term illness that occurs within the first 6 months after someone is exposed to the Hepatitis B virus. Acute infection can — but does not always — lead to chronic infection.

Chronic Hepatitis B virus infection is a long-term illness that occurs when the Hepatitis B virus remains in a person’s body.

How likely is it that acute Hepatitis B will become chronic?

The likelihood depends upon the age at which someone becomes infected. The younger a person is when infected with Hepatitis B virus, the greater his or her chance of developing chronic Hepatitis B. Approximately 90% of infected infants will develop chronic infection. The risk goes down as a child gets older. Approximately 25%–50% of children infected between the ages of 1 and 5 years will develop chronic hepatitis. The risk drops to 6%–10% when a person is infected over 5 years of age. Worldwide, most people with chronic Hepatitis B were infected at birth or during early childhood.

How is Hepatitis B spread?

Hepatitis B is spread when blood, semen, or other body fluid infected with the Hepatitis B virus enters the body of a person who is not infected. People can become infected with the virus during activities such as:

·         Birth (spread from an infected mother to her baby during birth)

·         Sex with an infected partner

·         Sharing needles, syringes, or other drug-injection equipment

·         Sharing items such as razors or toothbrushes with an infected person

·         Direct contact with the blood or open sores of an infected person

·         Exposure to blood from needlesticks or other sharp instruments

Can a person spread Hepatitis B and not know it?

Yes. Many people with chronic Hepatitis B virus infection do not know they are infected since they do not feel or look sick. However, they still can spread the virus to others and are at risk of serious health problems themselves.

Can Hepatitis B be spread through sex?

Yes. Among adults in the United States, Hepatitis B is most commonly spread through sexual contact and accounts for nearly two-thirds of acute Hepatitis B cases. In fact, Hepatitis B is 50–100 times more infectious than HIV and can be passed through the exchange of body fluids, such as semen, vaginal fluids, and blood.

Can Hepatitis B be spread through food?

Unlike Hepatitis A, it is not spread routinely through food or water. However, there have been instances in which Hepatitis B has been spread to babies when they have received food pre-chewed by an infected person.

What are ways Hepatitis B is not spread?

Hepatitis B virus is not spread by sharing eating utensils, breastfeeding, hugging, kissing, holding hands, coughing, or sneezing.

Who is at risk for Hepatitis B?

Although anyone can get Hepatitis B, some people are at greater risk, such as those who:

·         Have sex with an infected person

·         Have multiple sex partners

·         Have a sexually transmitted disease

·         Are men who have sexual contact with other men

·         Inject drugs or share needles, syringes, or other drug equipment

·         Live with a person who has chronic Hepatitis B

·         Are infants born to infected mothers

·         Are exposed to blood on the job

·         Are hemodialysis patients

·         Travel to countries with moderate to high rates of Hepatitis B 

If I think I have been exposed to the Hepatitis B virus, what should I do?

If you are concerned that you might have been exposed to the Hepatitis B virus, call your health professional or your health department. If a person who has been exposed to Hepatitis B virus gets the Hepatitis B vaccine and/or a shot called “HBIG” (Hepatitis B immune globulin) within 24 hours, Hepatitis B infection may be prevented.

How long does the Hepatitis B virus survive outside the body?

Hepatitis B virus can survive outside the body at least 7 days. During that time, the virus can still cause infection if it enters the body of a person who is not infected.

How should blood spills be cleaned from surfaces to make sure that Hepatitis B virus is gone?

All blood spills — including those that have already dried — should be cleaned and disinfected with a mixture of bleach and water (one part household bleach to 10 parts water). Gloves should always be used when cleaning up any blood spills. Even dried blood can present a risk to others.

If I had Hepatitis B in the past, can I get it again?

No, once you recover from Hepatitis B, you develop antibodies that protect you from the virus for life. An antibody is a substance found in the blood that the body produces in response to a virus. Antibodies protect the body from disease by attaching to the virus and destroying it. However, some people, especially those infected during early childhood, remain infected for life because they never clear the virus from their bodies.

Can I donate blood, organs, or semen if I have Hepatitis B?

No, if you have ever tested positive for the Hepatitis B virus, experts recommend that you not donate blood, organs, or semen because this can put the recipient at great risk for getting hepatitis.

Does acute Hepatitis B cause symptoms?

Sometimes. Although a majority of adults develop symptoms from acute Hepatitis B virus infection, many young children do not. Adults and children over the age of 5 years are more likely to have symptoms. Seventy percent of adults will develop symptoms from the infection.

What are the symptoms of acute Hepatitis B?

Symptoms of acute Hepatitis B, if they appear, can include:

·         Fever

·         Fatigue

·         Loss of appetite

·         Nausea

·         Vomiting

·         Abdominal pain

·         Dark urine

·         Clay-colored bowel movements

·         Joint pain

·         Jaundice (yellow color in the skin or the eyes)

How soon after exposure to Hepatitis B will symptoms appear?

On average, symptoms appear 90 days (or 3 months) after exposure, but they can appear any time between 6 weeks and 6 months after exposure.

How long do acute Hepatitis B symptoms last?

Symptoms usually last a few weeks, but some people can be ill for as long as 6 months.

Can a person spread Hepatitis B without having symptoms?

Yes. Many people with Hepatitis B have no symptoms, but these people can still spread the virus.

What are the symptoms of chronic Hepatitis B?

Some people have ongoing symptoms similar to acute Hepatitis B, but most individuals with chronic Hepatitis B remain symptom free for as long as 20 or 30 years. About 15%–25% of people with chronic Hepatitis B develop serious liver conditions, such as cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) or liver cancer. Even as the liver becomes diseased, some people still do not have symptoms, although certain blood tests for liver function might begin to show some abnormalities.

How will I know if I have Hepatitis B?

Talk to your health professional. Since many people with Hepatitis B do not have symptoms, doctors diagnose the disease by one or more blood tests. These tests look for the presence of antibodies or antigens and can help determine whether you:

·         have acute or chronic infection

·         have recovered from infection

·         are immune to Hepatitis B

·         could benefit from vaccination  

How serious is chronic Hepatitis B?

Chronic Hepatitis B is a serious disease that can result in long-term health problems, including liver damage, liver failure, liver cancer, or even death. Approximately 2,000–4,000 people die every year from Hepatitis B-related liver disease.

 What are antigens and antibodies?

An antigen is a substance on the surface of a virus that causes a person's immune system to recognize and respond to it. When the body is exposed to an antigen, the body views it as foreign material and takes steps to neutralize the antigen by producing antibodies. An antibody is a substance found in the blood that the body produces in response to a virus. Antibodies protect the body from disease by attaching to the virus and destroying it.

How is acute Hepatitis B treated?

There is no medication available to treat acute Hepatitis B. During this short-term infection, doctors usually recommend rest, adequate nutrition, and fluids, although some people may need to be hospitalized.

How is chronic Hepatitis B treated?

It depends. People with chronic Hepatitis B virus infection should seek the care or consultation of a doctor with experience treating Hepatitis B. This can include some internists or family medicine practitioners, as well as specialists such as infectious disease physicians, gastroenterologists, or hepatologists (liver specialists). People with chronic Hepatitis B should be monitored regularly for signs of liver disease and evaluated for possible treatment. Several medications have been approved for Hepatitis B treatment, and new drugs are in development. However, not every person with chronic Hepatitis B needs to be on medication, and the drugs may cause side effects in some patients

From CDC website


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