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Hepatitis B Screening for Adolescents and Adults

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Oct 31, 2022.

What do I need to know about hepatitis B virus (HBV) screening?

HBV screening is a test to check for infection by the virus that causes hepatitis B (a liver infection). Screening is different from diagnosis because it is done before you have any signs or symptoms of hepatitis B. When detected early, treatment can begin to reduce your risk for liver failure.

Abdominal Organs

What do I need to know about hepatitis B?

  • Over half the people who have HBV do not know they are infected until serious health effects develop. This can cause a delay in treatment. An infected person can also pass HBV to others without knowing it.
  • Hepatitis B can be life-threatening if it is not treated. Even with treatment, hepatitis B can damage your liver. You may develop cirrhosis or portal hypertension (increased pressure in the vein that goes to your liver) or liver failure.
  • HBV is passed from an infected person through blood and body fluids. You can also get it by touching an object that has the virus on it. The virus can live on an object for up to 7 days. A baby can be infected at birth if his or her mother has hepatitis B.
  • HBV is called acute when a person first becomes infected. The infection becomes chronic when a person has symptoms for 6 months or longer.
  • Possible treatment includes medicines to fight HBV or to help your blood clot. A liver transplant may be needed if hepatitis B severely damages the liver.

What increases my risk for HBV infection?

  • Tattoos, piercing, and beauty treatments with equipment not properly sterilized
  • Unprotected sex, sex with multiple partners, and men who have sex with other men
  • Close contact with an infected person, or contact with an infected object
  • Travel to areas where HBV is common such as Asia, Africa, South America, the Middle East
  • Living or working in a long-term care facility or correctional facility
  • Rarely, a blood, organ, or tissue transplant from an infected donor

Am I a good candidate for HBV screening?

You can have HBV screening even if you already had the hepatitis B vaccine. You may need to wait at least 14 days after you get the vaccine. You may be a good candidate for screening if any of the following is true:

  • You are at risk for hepatitis B, but you do not have any signs or symptoms.
  • You were born in an area with a high HBV infection rate, such as Asia, Africa, and parts of South America.
  • You were born in an area with a low HBV infection rate but did not receive the vaccine when you were an infant.
  • You are HIV-positive or have hepatitis C.
  • You use injectable drugs.
  • You are a man who has sex with men.
  • You have contact with a person infected with HBV. The person may live in your home or be a sex partner.

How is HBV screening done?

Blood tests are used to check for an HBV infection. The test used for screening checks for HBV antigens. An antigen is a substance on the surface of the virus. It causes your immune system to react by creating antibodies to fight the virus. Other tests are used to check for the antibody created to fight the antigen. Your healthcare provider will tell you when and how to get your screening results.

  • If the test is positive, your provider will refer you to a specialist for follow-up care. You may need more tests to confirm the positive result before treatment begins.
  • If the test is negative, your provider may recommend another test to confirm the negative result. This may be needed if you are at high risk for HBV. He or she may also recommend you get the hepatitis B vaccine. You may need to get screening regularly if your risk for HBV continues to be high.

What are the benefits and risks of HBV screening?

  • Benefits include being able to receive treatment before the virus damages your liver. Treatment can lower the risk for severe or life-threatening health problems such as cirrhosis and liver cancer.
  • Risks include possible false-positive or false-negative test results. False-positive results mean tests show you have HBV even though you do not. A false-positive result can lead to treatment you do not need. False-negative results mean tests show you do not have HBV even though you do. A false-negative result can prevent you from getting treatment, leading to serious health problems.

What questions should I ask my healthcare provider before I decide to have HBV screening?

  • How high is my risk for hepatitis B?
  • Can I have HBV screening while I am pregnant?
  • Will my insurance cover screening?
  • Where is the screening done?
  • Do I need to do anything to get ready to have screening?
  • When and how do I get the results of my screening?

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 healthcare providers 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.

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Further information

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