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Hepatitis B Facts

Learn about symptoms, transmission and risk factors of hepatitis B.

Hepatitis B is a potentially life-threatening liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). It can cause both acute and chronic disease.

For people who are chronically infected, many have no symptoms yet their liver is still being silently damaged which can develop into serious liver disease such as liver cancer.

Jump straight to:
Symptoms
What are the symptoms of hepatitis B?

Most APIs are infected at birth or early childhood, when symptoms may never develop. Thus the disease can progress undetected. If symptoms do appear, they often appear too late, when the disease has become fatal and when treatment options are limited or ineffective. Only 30% of those with acute infections develop symptoms.

When symptoms of hepatitis B infection do develop, they include:

  • loss of appetite

  • fatigue

  • abdominal pain

  • joint and muscle pain

  • low-grade fever

  • possible stomach pain

  • nausea

  • vomiting

  • jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin)

  • bloated stomach

Transmission
How is hepatitis B transmitted?

The hepatitis B virus (HBV) is transmitted through infected blood in the following ways:

BBS
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Birth

From a mother to a child at the time of birth (most common for APIs).

Blood

Open wound to wound contact with infected blood.

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Sex

Unprotected sex.

Treatment or Cure
How is hepatitis B treated or cured?

While no cure for hepatitis B has been found, treatment can be used to reduce the liver damage that may result in cirrhosis and liver failure.

Not all people chronically infected with hepatitis B need treatment. For those who need it, there are several treatment options available.

Risk Factors
What are the risk factors for hepatitis B?

Among the Asian & Pacific Islander (API) community, transmission of HBV frequently occurs during the birth process when the virus is passed on to the baby from a mother who is often unaware that she is infected. If symptoms do appear they often are exhibited at the end stages of disease when treatment options are limited or ineffective.

Since perinatal transmission is the most common, prevention is of the utmost importance in the Asian community.

Protection
How can I protect myself against hepatitis B?

This is the answer to the above question.

Acute and Chronic Hepatitis
What is the difference between acute and chronic hepatitis B?

A hepatitis B infection can result in either an acute infection or a chronic infection.

Acute Hepatitis B Infection

A hepatitis B infection can result in either an acute infection or a chronic infection. Acute hepatitis B is often contracted as an adult from sex or direct exposure to blood.

An acute hepatitis B infection may last up to six months (with or without symptoms) and infected persons are able to pass the virus to others during this time.

Treatment
  • If treatment for an acute hepatitis B infection is required, a person may be hospitalized for general support. Rest and managing symptoms are the primary goals of this medical care.

  • A rare, life-threatening condition called “fulminant hepatitis” can occur with a new acute infection and requires immediate, urgent medical attention since a person can go into sudden liver failure.

Most healthy adults that are infected do not have any symptoms and are able to get rid of the virus without any problems.

Chronic Hepatitis B Infection

Some adults are unable to get rid of the virus after six months and they are diagnosed as having a "chronic infection." A simple blood test can diagnose an acute or chronic hepatitis B infection. 

The risk of developing a chronic hepatitis B infection is directly related to the age at which a person is first exposed to the hepatitis B virus. The younger a person is when they are first infected, the greater the risk of developing a chronic hepatitis B infection:

Pregnancy & Newborn Risks
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More than 90% of infants (1 or less) who are infected with hepatitis B will develop chronic hepatitis B.

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30% - 50% of young children between 1 and 5 years who are infected will develop chronic hepatitis B.

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Only 5-10% of healthy adults 19 years and older who are infected will develop chronic hepatitis B infection (that is, 90% will get acute hepatitis B and recover.

Most pregnant women do not know whether they are infected with hepatitis B and can unknowingly pass the virus to their newborns during childbirth. Therefore, since the risk of newborns becoming chronically infected at birth is so high, both the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that all infants receive the first dose of the hepatitis B vaccine within 12-24 hours after birth.

The recommendation for hepatitis B vaccination of babies and children is so important because they are at the greatest risk of developing a chronic infection if they are not protected against the hepatitis B virus as soon as possible. 

Hepatitis ABCs
What are the ABC's of hepatitis B?

"Hepatitis" refers to any disease that results in inflammation of the liver, regardless of how that disease is contracted.

Hepatitis A
SEVERITY
  • Acute
TRANSMISSION
  • Fecal-oral route: When an uninfected person ingests food or water that has been contaminated with the feces of an individual infected with hepatitis A
CURE
  • Self-resolving with no lasting liver damage. After one infection, your body develops antibodies that prevents re-infection.
PREVENTION
  • Hepatitis A vaccine
Hepatitis B
SEVERITY
  • Acute and chronic
TRANSMISSION
  • Through contaminated blood and sexual fluids
CURE
  • No cure
PREVENTION
  • Hepatitis B vaccine
Hepatitis C
SEVERITY
  • Acute and chronic
  • Infection becomes chronic in more than 50% of cases regardless of when you were infected.
TRANSMISSION
  • Through contaminated blood
CURE
  • Can be cured through a series of treatments
PREVENTION
  • No effective vaccine is available at this time
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