Hepatitis B Overview
Hepatitis B is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis B virus.
Most hepatitis B infections clear up, without treatment, within one to two months.
When the infection lasts more than six months, it can develop into chronic hepatitis B, which can lead to:
- Chronic inflammation of the liver
- Cirrhosis (scarring of the liver)
- Liver cancer
- Liver failure
- Death (every year, 5,000 people die as a result of liver disease caused by the hepatitis B virus)
Causes of hepatitis B
Hepatitis B is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV).
This virus is spread through contact with body fluids of an infected person, such as:
- Vaginal fluids
A woman infected with hepatitis B can pass the virus on to her baby during childbirth.
HBV cannot be spread by:
- Sneezing or coughing
- Kissing or hugging
- Sharing eating utensils or drinking glasses
- Food or water
- Casual contact (such as an office setting)
Risk factors of hepatitis B
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.
Coming in contact with the blood or other body fluids of someone infected with hepatitis B increases your risk for infection. Unlike the hepatitis A virus, HBV is not spread through contaminated food or water.
The following situations may increase your risk of getting hepatitis B:
- Having sex with someone infected with hepatitis B or who is a carrier of hepatitis B
- Having been born to a mother who had hepatitis B at the time of birth
- Injecting illicit drugs, especially with shared needles
- Having more than one sexual partner
- Being a man who has sex with men
- Living in the same house with someone who is infected with hepatitis B and sharing items such as toothbrushes or razors
- Having a sexually transmitted disease at the time you come in contact with hepatitis B
- Traveling to areas where hepatitis B is common, such as:
- Southeast Asia
- Sub-Saharan Africa
- Receiving a blood transfusion prior to 1975 (when a screening test was developed for donated blood)
- Being bitten (so that the skin is broken) by someone whose saliva contains the virus
People at risk include:
- Those who have jobs that involve contact with body fluids, such as:
- First aid or emergency workers
- Funeral directors
- Medical personnel
- Dentists and dental assistants
- Police officers
- Employees or patients in hospital or long-term care facilities
- Prison employees and prisoners
- Hemophiliacs receiving multiple transfusions of blood or blood products (risk is greatly reduced with careful blood screening)
- Hemodialysis patients
Note: It is important that all pregnant women get a blood test for hepatitis B early in their pregnancy since the hepatitis B virus can be spread to babies during birth.