Hepatitis B is caused by a virus that attacks the liver. The virus, which is called hepatitis B virus (HBV), can cause lifelong infection, cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, liver cancer, liver failure, and death.
Only a blood test can tell for sure.
HBV is spread when blood from an infected person enters the body of a person who is not infected. For example, HBV is spread through having sex with an infected person without using a condom (the efficacy of latex condoms in preventing infection with HBV is unknown, but their proper use might reduce transmission), by sharing drugs, needles, or “works” when “shooting” drugs, through needlesticks or sharps exposures on the job, or from an infected mother to her baby during birth.
Hepatitis B is not spread through food or water, sharing eating utensils, breastfeeding, hugging, kissing, coughing, sneezing or by casual contact.
HBsAg will be detected in an infected person’s blood on the average of 4 weeks (range 1-9 weeks) after exposure to the virus. About 1 out of 2 patients will no longer be infectious by 7 weeks after onset of symptoms and all patients, who do not remain chronically infected, will be HBsAg-negative by 15 weeks after onset of symptoms.
If symptoms occur, they occur on the average of 12 weeks (range 9-21 weeks) after exposure to hepatitis B virus. Symptoms occur in about 70% of patients. Symptoms are more likely to occur in adults than in children.
Sometimes a person with HBV infection has no symptoms at all. The older you are, the more apt you are to have symptoms. You might be infected with HBV (and be spreading the virus) and not know it.
If you have symptoms, they might include:
yellow skin or yellowing of the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
loss of appetite
clay-colored bowel movements
You are at increased risk of HBV infection if you:
have sex with someone infected with HBV
have sex with more than one partner
are a man and have sex with a
live in the same house with someone who has chronic (long-term) HBV infection
have a job that involves contact with human blood
are a client in a home for the developmentally disabled
travel to areas where hepatitis B is common (country listing)
There are no medications available for recently acquired (acute) HBV infection. Hepatitis B vaccine is available for the prevention of HBV infection. There are antiviral drugs available for the treatment of chronic HBV infection.
Yes, you should get a blood test to check for HBV infection early in your pregnancy. This test is called hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg). If you test HBsAg-negative early in pregnancy, but continue behaviors that put you at risk for HBV infection (e.g., multiple sex partners, injection drug use), you should be retested for HBsAg close to delivery. If your HBsAg test is positive, this means you are infected with HBV and can give the virus to your baby. Babies who get HBV at birth might develop chronic HBV infection that can lead to cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer.
If your blood test is positive, your baby should receive the first dose of hepatitis B vaccine, along with another shot, hepatitis B immune globulin (called HBIG), at birth. The second dose of vaccine should be given at aged 1-2 months and the third dose at aged 6 months (but not before aged 24 weeks).
If you had any type of viral hepatitis since aged 11 years, you are not eligible to donate blood. In addition, if you ever tested positive for hepatitis B or hepatitis C, at any age, you are not eligible to donate, even if you were never sick or jaundiced from the infection.
HBV can survive outside the body at least 7 days and still be capable of causing infection.
You should clean up any blood spills – including dried blood, which can still be infectious – using 1:10 dilution of one part household bleach to 10 parts of water for disinfecting the area. Use gloves when cleaning up any blood spills.