What is hepatitis?

Hepatitis is a disease that damages the liver. Viruses cause most cases of hepatitis, but alcohol, drugs, and other factors can also cause the disease.

Hepatitis B can be spread from another person who has the virus. In the United States, it is most commonly spread by having sex with an infected person or by sharing a needle. A blood test can tell you if you have hepatitis.

What is hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a serious form of hepatitis caused by a virus. It affects people of all ages around the world. The hepatitis B virus attacks the liver. The virus can lead to serious illness, liver damage and, in some cases, death.

How is hepatitis B spread?

Hepatitis B is spread through the blood and body fluids (semen and fluids from the vagina) of an infected person. The virus can be spread by:

  • Sharing needles with a person(s) infected with hepatitis B
  • Having sex with an infected person
  • Using an infected person's personal items (such as razors, toothbrushes, scissors or nail files)
  • Being stuck with a needle used by a person infected with hepatitis B

It also can be passed on from an infected mother to her child at birth.

The chance of being infected with hepatitis B from receiving blood transfusions is unlikely because donated blood is tested for the virus.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis B?

Some people who are infected never feel sick. Others who are newly infected have symptoms that last for several weeks. Symptoms include:

  • Achy muscles or joints
  • Stomach pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mild fever
  • Loose stool (diarrhea)
  • Lack of energy
  • Constipation
  • Yellowing of skin or whites of the eyes
  • Being sick to your stomach
  • Brown urine

Can a person get more than one form of hepatitis?

Yes. You can get different forms of hepatitis at different times. For example, if you have had hepatitis A, you can still get hepatitis B.

Who are hepatitis B carriers?

Hepatitis B carriers are people who have the hepatitis B virus in their blood, even though they do not feel sick. They can infect others without knowing it. A blood test can tell you if you are a hepatitis B carrier.

What is the difference between acute and chronic hepatitis?

When a person is first infected with hepatitis, they are said to have "acute" hepatitis. Acute hepatitis can be mild or severe. Luckily, more than 80 percent of the people infected with hepatitis recover within six months and no longer have the virus.

Some people do not recover and develop "chronic" hepatitis. Chronic hepatitis is an ongoing infection of the liver that can lead to cirrhosis. Cirrhosis, or hardening of the liver, causes liver tissue to scar and stop working.

What are the long-term effects of hepatitis B?

  • Becoming a hepatitis B carrier
  • Chronic hepatitis B infection
  • Cirrhosis (scarring of the liver)
  • Liver cancer
  • Liver failure
  • Death

Can a pregnant woman give hepatitis to her baby?

Yes. A pregnant woman can spread the hepatitis virus to her baby at the time of birth. This can be prevented by treating hepatitis B during pregnancy and by administration of hepatitis B antibody to the baby immediately after delivery.

Many babies infected with hepatitis B develop long-term liver problems. All newborn babies should be given the vaccine for hepatitis at birth and during their first year of life.

Can hepatitis B be treated?

Treatments for hepatitis B are evolving. These include anti-viral treatments. Tips to improve health include:

How can I protect myself from hepatitis B?

  • Get the hepatitis B vaccine
  • Use a condom during sex
  • Don't share needles to take drugs
  • Practice good personal hygiene
  • Don't use an infected person's personal items

Who should get the vaccine?

  • All newborn babies
  • People who are exposed to infected blood or body fluids of friends or family members
  • People who use needles to take recreational drugs
  • All people who have sex with more than one person
  • All health care providers
  • People working in day care centers and institutions caring for children and prisoners

Where can I learn more?

CDC Hotline: 800.232.4636


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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 5/18/2015...#4246