What is hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is a virus that infects the liver camera.gif. Most adults who get it have it for a short time and then get better. This is called acute hepatitis B. Sometimes the virus causes a long-term infection, called chronic hepatitis B. Over time, it can damage your liver. Babies and young children infected with the virus are more likely to get chronic hepatitis B.
You can have hepatitis B and not know it. You may not have symptoms. If you do, they can make you feel like you have the flu. But as long as you have the virus, you can spread it to others.
What causes hepatitis B?
It’s caused by the hepatitis B virus. It is spread through contact with the blood and body fluids of an infected person.
You may get hepatitis B if you:
- Have sex with an infected person without using a condom.
- Share needles (used for injecting drugs) with an infected person.
- Get a tattoo or piercing with tools that weren’t sterilized.
- Share personal items like razors or toothbrushes with an infected person.
The hepatitis B virus (HBV) is found in blood and bodily fluids. It can be transmitted through semen, vaginal fluids, and blood, and it can pass from a mother to a newborn during delivery. Sharing needles and having unprotected sex increase the risk.
HBV is a major global health problem. Worldwide, some 887,000 people died from HBV-related liver disease in 2015. Between 850,000 and 2.2 million people in the United States (U.S.) are thought to be living with chronic HBV infection.
For most adults, HBV is a short-term illness that causes no permanent damage, but 2 to 6 percent of adults infected will develop a chronic infection that can potentially lead to liver cancer. Around 90 percent of infants with the virus will develop chronic infection.
There is no cure for HBV, but immunization can prevent initial infection. Antiviral medication can treat chronic infections.
How is hepatitis B diagnosed?