Learn About Hepatitis B

View Main Condition: Hepatitis

What is the definition of Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is irritation and swelling (inflammation) of the liver due to infection with the hepatitis B virus (HBV).

Other types of viral hepatitis include hepatitis A, hepatitis C, and hepatitis D.

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What are the causes of Hepatitis B?

You can catch hepatitis B infection through contact with the blood or body fluids (semen, vaginal fluids, and saliva) of a person who has the virus.

Exposure may occur:

  • After a needlestick or sharps injury
  • If any blood or other body fluid touches your skin, eyes or mouth, or open sores or cuts

People who may be at risk for hepatitis B are those who:

  • Have unprotected sex with an infected partner
  • Receive blood transfusions (not common in the United States)
  • Have contact with blood at work (such as health care workers)
  • Have been on long-term kidney dialysis
  • Get a tattoo or acupuncture with unclean needles
  • Share needles during drug use
  • Share personal items (such as toothbrush, razor, and nail clippers) with a person who has the virus
  • Were born to a hepatitis-B infected mother

All blood used for blood transfusions is screened, so the chance of getting the virus in this way is very small.

What are the symptoms of Hepatitis B?

After you first become infected with the HBV:

  • You may have no symptoms.
  • You may feel sick for a period of days or weeks.
  • You may become very ill very quickly (called fulminant hepatitis).

Symptoms of hepatitis B may not appear for up to 6 months after the time of infection. Early symptoms include:

  • Appetite loss
  • Fatigue
  • Low fever
  • Muscle and joint aches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Yellow skin and dark urine

Symptoms will go away in a few weeks to months if your body is able to fight off the infection. Some people never get rid of the HBV. This is called chronic hepatitis B.

People with chronic hepatitis may not have symptoms and may not know they are infected. Over time, they may develop symptoms of liver damage and cirrhosis of the liver.

You can spread the HBV to other people, even if you have no symptoms.

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What are the current treatments for Hepatitis B?

Acute hepatitis, unless severe, needs no treatment. Liver and other body functions are watched using blood tests. You should get plenty of bed rest, drink plenty of fluids, and eat healthy foods.

Chronic hepatitis

Some people with chronic hepatitis may be treated with antiviral drugs. These medicines can decrease or remove hepatitis B from the blood. One of the medicines is an injection called interferon. They also help to reduce the risk for cirrhosis and liver cancer.

It is not always clear which people with chronic hepatitis B should receive drug therapy and when it should be started. You are more likely to receive these medicines if:

  • Your liver function is quickly becoming worse.
  • You develop symptoms of long-term liver damage.
  • You have high levels of the HBV in your blood.
  • You are pregnant.

For these medicines to work best, you need to take them as instructed by your provider. Ask what side effects you can expect and what to do if you have them. Not everybody who needs to take these medicines responds well.

If you develop liver failure, you may be considered for a liver transplant. A liver transplant is the only cure in some cases of liver failure.

Other steps you can take:

  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Check with your provider before taking any over-the-counter medicines or herbal supplements. This includes medicines such as acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen.

Severe liver damage or cirrhosis can be caused by hepatitis B.

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What are the support groups for Hepatitis B?

More information and support for people with HBV condition and their families can be found by joining a support group. Ask your provider about liver disease resources and support groups in your area.

What is the outlook (prognosis) for Hepatitis B?

The acute illness most often goes away after 2 to 3 weeks. The liver most often returns to normal within 4 to 6 months in most people.

Almost all newborns and about one half of children who get hepatitis B develop the chronic condition. Very few adults who get the virus develop chronic hepatitis B.

There is a much higher rate of liver cancer in people who have chronic hepatitis B.

When should I contact a medical professional for Hepatitis B?

Call your provider if:

  • You develop symptoms of hepatitis B.
  • Hepatitis B symptoms do not go away in 2 to 3 weeks, or new symptoms develop.
  • You belong to a high-risk group for hepatitis B and have not had the HBV vaccine.
Hepatitis B
How do I prevent Hepatitis B?

Children and people at high risk for hepatitis B should get the hepatitis B vaccine.

  • Babies should get a first dose of the hepatitis B vaccine at birth. They should have all 3 shots in the series by age 6 to 18 months.
  • Children younger than age 19 who have not had the vaccine should get "catch-up" doses.
  • Health care workers and those who live with someone who has hepatitis B should get the vaccine.
  • Infants born to mothers who have acute hepatitis B or have had the infection in the past should get a special hepatitis B vaccine within 12 hours of birth.

The hepatitis B vaccine or a hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG) shot may help prevent infection if you receive it within 24 hours of contact with the virus.

Measures to avoid contact with blood and body fluids can help prevent the spread of hepatitis B from person-to-person.

Hepatitis B virus
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What are the latest Hepatitis B Clinical Trials?
A Multicenter, Open-label, Randomized Controlled Trial for the Effectiveness of Antiviral TreAtment in Cirrhotic Patients With Low-level Hepatitis B Virus DNA Levels (ATTACH)

Summary: Multicenter, Open-label, Randomized Controlled Trial Male and female adults with liver cirrhosis due to chronic hepatitis B virus infection who have low-level viremia and are beyond treatment indications by current guidelines. To assess the efficacy of Tenofovir Alafenamide (TAF) in reducing liver-related events (hepatocellular carcinoma, liver-related events and death, decompensated liver cirrhos...

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Optimizing HBV Care Cascade Among Foreign-Born in the United States (FOCUS-HBV Study)

Background: People who were born outside of the country are the largest group of adults infected with chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) in the US. HBV affects the liver. If not treated, HBV infection can lead to serious liver disease, including cancer. One recent study showed that only 35% of foreign-born US adults were aware of their HBV infections. Foreign-born US adults may also have trouble getting proper c...

What are the Latest Advances for Hepatitis B?
Efficacy and predictive factors of glucocorticoid therapy for patients with hepatitis B virus-related acute-on-chronic liver failure.
Robotic versus laparoscopic major hepatectomy for hepatocellular carcinoma: short-term outcomes from a single institution.
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Comparison of local ablation with Albendazole or laparoscopic hepatectomy combined with Albendazole in the treatment of early hepatic alveolar echinococcosis.
Who are the sources who wrote this article ?

Published Date: February 06, 2022
Published By: Michael M. Phillips, MD, Emeritus Professor of Medicine, The George Washington University School of Medicine, Washington, DC. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

What are the references for this article ?

Freedman MS, Hunter P, Ault K, Kroger A. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended immunization schedules for adults aged 19 years and older -- United States, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2020;69(5):133-135. PMID: 32027627 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32027627/.

Pawlotsky J-M. Chronic viral and autoimmune hepatitis. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 140.

Robinson CL, Bernstein H, Poehling K, Romero JR, Szilagyi P. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended immunization schedules for children and adolescents aged 18 years or younger -- United States, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2020;69(5):130-132. PMID: 32027628. pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32027628/.

Tang LSY, Covert E, Wilson E, Kottilil S. Chronic hepatitis B infection: a review. JAMA. 2018;319(17):1802-1813 PMID: 29715359 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29715359/.

Terrault NA, Bzowej NH, Chang KM, Hwang JP, Jonas MM, Murad MH; American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases. AASLD guidelines for treatment of chronic hepatitis B. Hepatology. 2016;63(1):261-283. PMID: 26566064 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26566064/.