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Viral Hepatitis B

What is hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is an inflammation of the liver. It is caused by an infection of the hepatitis B virus (HBV). The infection is called acute when a person first becomes infected. The infection becomes chronic (long-term) when a person has symptoms for 6 months or longer.

How is hepatitis B spread?

HBV spreads when you have contact with infected blood or body fluids, such as saliva (spit) and semen. HBV can enter your body through a cut or scratch in your skin or through your mucous membranes. Mucous membranes include your gums, the lining of your rectum, or a woman's vagina. HBV can live on objects and surfaces for 7 days or longer. HBV can also spread from a mother to her unborn child.

What increases my risk for hepatitis B?

If you have not been vaccinated against HBV, the following increase your risk:

  • You are stuck with an infected needle. This includes accidental needle sticks, use of illegal drugs, or infected needles used during procedures such as tattooing.

  • You have a wound or cut, you touch an object with infected blood or body fluids on it, and then you touch your wound.

  • You have more than one sex partner, or you are a man who has sex with men.

  • You have unprotected sex or close contact with an infected person.

  • You travel to areas in the world where HBV is common.

  • You live or work in a long-term care facility or correctional facility.

  • You receive a blood, organ, or tissue transplant from an infected donor.

What are the signs and symptoms of hepatitis B?

Once a person is infected with HBV, it can take from 1 to 6 months before symptoms occur. Some people will have no signs and symptoms and may not know they have been infected. When signs and symptoms do occur, they may last from a few days to months. You may have any of the following:

  • Dark-colored urine or light-colored bowel movements

  • Fatigue and weakness

  • Fever

  • Loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting

  • Jaundice (yellow skin or eyes), itchy skin, or skin rash

  • Joint pain and body aches

  • Pain in the right upper side of your abdomen

How is hepatitis B diagnosed?

Your caregiver will ask you about your signs and symptoms and any health problems you have. Tell your caregiver if you have other infections, such as HIV or hepatitis C. Tell your caregiver if you have family members with HBV or other liver diseases. Tell your caregiver if you drink alcohol or use any illegal drugs. Your caregiver may also ask about your sexual partners. You may need any of the following tests:

  • Blood tests: Your caregiver will order blood tests to see if you are infected with the virus that causes hepatitis B and to check liver function.

  • Abdominal ultrasound: An abdominal ultrasound uses sound waves to look at your liver. Pictures of your liver will show up on a monitor. An ultrasound may be done to check for signs of HBV and to look for other liver problems.

  • Liver biopsy: During a liver biopsy, a small sample of your liver is removed. The sample is sent to a lab to check for swelling, scarring, and other damage. A liver biopsy may help caregivers learn if you need treatment for HBV.

How is hepatitis B treated?

For some people, HBV may last a short time and go away on its own without treatment. HBV may also become chronic, leading to liver damage and disease. Your caregiver will monitor your signs and symptoms closely for signs of liver disease and to see if you need treatment. The goal of treatment is to prevent the disease from getting worse and leading to more serious liver problems. Treatment may help improve the function of your liver and decrease your symptoms.

  • Medicines:

    • Antiviral medicines: Antiviral medicine helps fight the virus that causes hepatitis B and keep it from spreading in your body.

    • Immune globulin: Hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG) is medicine given if you have been exposed to HBV. Immune globulin helps your body fight the HBV infection. HBIG is also given to newborn babies who were exposed to HBV while in the womb.

  • Liver transplant: A liver transplant is surgery to replace your diseased liver with a donor liver. You may need a liver transplant if you have severe liver disease or liver failure.

How can I prevent the spread of hepatitis B?

  • Cover any open cuts or scratches: If blood from a wound gets on a surface, clean the surface with bleach right away. Make sure you throw away any items with blood or body fluids on them, as directed by your caregiver.

  • Do not share personal items: These items include toothbrushes, nail clipper, and razors. Do not share needles.

  • Tell household and sexual partners that you have HBV: People who live with you should be vaccinated against HBV. If they have not been vaccinated, they may need to start treatment to help prevent infection. You also need to tell medical or dental caregivers you have HBV before you receive any kind of treatment.

  • Use a condom during sex: Even if you have acute HBV and your infection goes away, you can still spread the virus for up to 6 months.

  • Protect your baby: If you are pregnant, ask your caregiver for more information on keeping your baby from getting HBV. He will need a vaccination or treatment if you plan to breastfeed.

How can I care for myself when I have hepatitis B?

  • Limit or avoid alcohol: You will need to limit or avoid drinks with alcohol in them. Alcohol can increase your liver damage and can damage your brain and heart. Talk to your caregiver if you drink alcohol and need help to stop.

  • Quit smoking: If you have HBV, smoking can lead to further liver damage.

What are the risks of hepatitis B?

  • Even with treatment, your HBV may cause damage to your liver. If you need cancer treatment or take certain other medicines, your HBV may return or get worse. This includes medicines you take after an organ or bone marrow transplant or to treat HIV or autoimmune disorders.

  • Without treatment, your risk for chronic HBV, cirrhosis, liver fibrosis (scarring), and liver failure increases. You may get an infection in your abdomen, and you may have bleeding in your stomach and esophagus. Liver disease may lead to increased pressure in your brain. Your risk for liver cancer also increases.

Where can I find more information?

  • Hepatitis B Foundation
    3805 Old Easton Road
    Doylestown , PA 18902
    Phone: 1- 215 - 489
    Web Address:
  • Hepatitis Foundation International
    504 Blick Drive
    Silver Spring , Maryland 20904-2901
    Phone: 1- 301 - 622-4200
    Phone: 1- 800 - 891-0707
    Web Address:

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • The palms of your hands are red.

  • You have a fever.

  • You have new or increased swelling in your legs, ankles, or feet.

  • Your muscles get smaller and weaker.

  • You have questions about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have a sudden, severe headache and head pressure.

  • You have new or increased bruising or red or purple dots on your skin. You may also have bleeding that does not stop easily.

  • Your abdomen is swollen.

  • You have severe nausea or cannot stop vomiting.

  • You see blood in your urine or bowel movements, or you vomit blood.

  • You have new or increased yellowing of your skin or the whites of your eyes.

  • You have severe pain in your upper abdomen.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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