Hepatitis B

What is hepatitis B?

Hepatitis is a redness and swelling
(inflammation) of the liver. It sometimes causes permanent liver damage.

There are several types of hepatitis. In hepatitis B, the liver is infected with the hepatitis B virus. This causes inflammation. The liver isn’t able to work the way it should.

The liver is a large organ that lies up under the ribs on the right side of your belly (abdomen). It helps filter waste from your body, makes a fluid called bile to help digest food, and stores sugar that your body uses for energy.

In the U.S., hepatitis B is one of the most common diseases that can be prevented with a vaccine.

Hepatitis B can be short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic). It tends to become chronic most often in infants and young children, and less often in people infected as adults.

  • Acute hepatitis B. This is a brief infection (6 months or
    less) that goes away because the body gets rid of the virus.
  • Chronic hepatitis B. This is a long-lasting infection that
    happens when your body can’t get rid of the virus. It causes long-term liver
    damage.

What causes hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is caused by infection
with the hepatitis B virus. People pass the hepatitis B virus to each other. This
happens when you come into contact with another person’s infected:  

  • Blood
  • Semen
  • Vaginal secretions
  • Saliva

Common ways this virus is spread
are through:

  • Needle sticks
  • Sharp instruments
  • Shared razors and toothbrushes
  • Unprotected sex with an infected
    person
  • Sharing drug supplies

Babies may also get the disease if
their mother has the virus. Infected children can spread the virus to other children if
they play together often and body fluids are shared. For example, a child comes into
contact with blood or open, draining sores from an infected child.

Body fluids need to come in contact
to spread the virus. So just playing next to a friend will not give someone hepatitis B.
A person can’t get hepatitis B from:

  • Sitting next to an infected person
  • Hugging an infected person
  • Shaking hands or holding hands with an infected person
  • Drinking water or eating food
  • Being sneezed or coughed on by an infected person

Who is at risk for hepatitis B?

Anyone can get hepatitis B by
coming into contact with the blood or body fluids of someone who is infected with
hepatitis B.

Some people are at higher risk for
getting hepatitis B. They include:

  • Children born to mothers who have
    hepatitis B. Pregnant women should be tested for hepatitis B.
  • People from Asian and Pacific Island
    nations
  • People living in long-term care
    facilities or who are disabled
  • People living in households where
    someone is infected with the virus
  • People who have a blood-clotting
    disorder, such as hemophilia
  • People who need dialysis for kidney
    failure
  • People who use IV (intravenous)
    drugs
  • People who have unprotected
    heterosexual or homosexual sex, especially if they have many sex partners
  • People who have a job where they are
    in contact with human blood, body fluids, or needles
  • People who work or live in a
    prison
  • People who had blood transfusions,
    blood products, or organ transplants before the early 1990s
  • People taking medicines that weaken
    (suppress) the body’s infection-fighting system (immune system)
  • People with HIV (human
    immunodeficiency virus) or hepatitis C infections

What are the symptoms of hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B has a wide range of symptoms. It may be mild, without symptoms, or it may cause chronic hepatitis. In some cases, hepatitis B can lead to liver failure and death.

Each person’s symptoms may vary. The most common symptoms of hepatitis B include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • Fever
  • Muscle soreness
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • Dark urine
  • Clay colored or light colored stools
  • Belly (abdominal) pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Easy bleeding and bruising
  • Confusion
  • Swollen belly from fluid

The symptoms of hepatitis B may look like other health problems. Always see your healthcare provider to be sure.

How is hepatitis B diagnosed?

To see if you have hepatitis B, your healthcare provider will give you a physical exam and do a blood test.

If your healthcare provider
suspects chronic hepatitis B, he or she may take a small tissue sample (biopsy) from
your liver with a needle. These samples are checked under a microscope to find out the
type of liver disease and how severe it is. An ultrasound test is usually done as well
to see if the liver looks very diseased.