What is hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is a serious liver infection that causes inflammation (swelling and reddening) that can lead to liver damage. Hepatitis B, also called HBV and Hep B, can cause cirrhosis (hardening or scarring), liver cancer and even death.
What are the types of hepatitis B?
There are two types of hepatitis B infection: acute and chronic.
An acute infection happens at the beginning, when you first get infected with hepatitis B. Many people are able to clear it from their bodies and recover. In fact, this is true of about 4 in 5 adults who are infected.
If you are not able to clear the infection within six months or longer, you have chronic hepatitis B. (Chronic means long-lasting.) It is chronic hepatitis B that leads to inflammation and the serious, and possibly fatal, illnesses of cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer. Treatment can slow disease progress, reduce the chance of liver cancer and increase your chances of surviving.
How common is hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is fairly common in Africa and the western Pacific region. Throughout the world, there are about 292 million people who are infected with chronic hepatitis B. In the U.S., the figure exceeds 2 million people.
The number of infections had been falling in the U.S., but fewer vaccinations among adults combined with the onset of the opioid crisis and injected drug usage has resulted in the numbers rising again. Infected women can pass the infection on to their babies. Children who are infected before age 5 are more likely to have chronic infection than those infected later in life.
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 may be minor or intense and may include:
- Achy muscles or joints.
- Stomach pain.
- Loss of appetite.
- Mild fever.
- Loose stool (diarrhea).
- Lack of energy.
- Having yellow skin or eyes (jaundice).
- Being sick to your stomach.
- Brown urine.
More than 90% of people who get hepatitis B as adults ultimately recover from their symptoms.
How is hepatitis B spread?
You can become infected with hepatitis B through exposure to blood, semen and other bodily fluids of an infected person. You can get the infection by:
- Having unprotected sex.
- Sharing or using dirty needles for drug use, tattoos or piercing.
- Sharing everyday items that may contain body fluids, including razors, toothbrushes, jewelry for piercings and nail clippers.
- Being treated medically by someone who does not use sterile instruments.
- Being bitten by someone with the infection.
- Being born to a pregnant woman with the infection.
Hepatitis B is not spread by:
- Kissing on the cheek or lips.
- Coughing or sneezing.
- Hugging, shaking hands or holding hands.
- Eating food that someone with the infection has prepared.
What are the risk factors for getting hepatitis B?
Due to the way that hepatitis B spreads, people most at risk for getting infected include:
- Children whose mothers have been infected with hepatitis B.
- Children who have been adopted from countries with high rates of hepatitis B infection.
- People who have unprotected sex and/or have been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection.
- People who live with or work in an institutional setting, such as prisons or group homes.
- Healthcare providers and first responders.
- People who share needles or syringes.
- People who live in close quarters with a person with chronic hepatitis B infection.
- People who are on dialysis.
Who are hepatitis B carriers?
Hepatitis B carriers are people who have the hepatitis B virus in their blood, even though they don’t feel sick. Between 6% and 10% of those people who’ve been infected with the virus will become carriers and can infect others without knowing it. There are over 250 million people in the world who are carriers of HBV, with about 10% to 15% of the total located in India. Children are at the highest risk of becoming carriers. About 9 in 10 babies infected at birth become HBV carriers, and about half of children who are infected between birth and age 5 carry the virus. A blood test can tell you if you are a hepatitis B carrier.