Hepatitis B is a liver condition caused by the hepatitis B virus. About ⅔ of those infected do not know, but for chronic cases, liver failure or other liver conditions may result. In fact, hepatitis B is a leading cause of liver cancer. About half of hepatitis B patients in the U.S. are of Asian descent.
Hepatitis B is a serious liver infection, caused by one of several types of hepatitis viruses. For patients with acute hepatitis B, the condition lasts less than six months. But if the infection progresses and becomes chronic, symptoms may last more than six months. Chronic hepatitis B also boosts your risk of developing liver failure, liver cancer, or cirrhosis (liver scarring). The hepatitis B vaccine has proven to be safe and effective in preventing infection.
Put simply, duration is the differentiating factor. Acute hepatitis B infection typically only lasts a few months. Chronic infections, however, last much longer. Our Charleston GI specialists have provided more details here!
The youngest patients, particularly newborns or children under five years old, face the highest risk of developing a chronic infection. Chronic infection may go undetected for decades until a person becomes seriously ill from liver disease.
Hepatitis B infection is caused by the hepatitis B virus – one that is transmitted from person to person through blood, semen, or other body fluids. It does not spread by casual contact, such as sneezing or coughing.
Our gastroenterologists have provided a few examples of ways that hepatitis B can spread.
These groups of people face an increased risk of getting hepatitis B:
The following symptoms may indicate a hepatitis B infection:
You GI specialist will likely conduct a physical examination, looking for the following:
Your gastroenterologist may order laboratory tests to diagnose and monitor your GI condition:
For acute hepatitis B, there is no medication needed to recover. Rest and fluids will likely do the trick. For chronic patients, hepatitis B will be routinely monitored to check for early signs of liver disease. Antiviral drugs may be administered as well.
How is hepatitis B transmitted?
The virus is transmitted when blood, semen or other body fluids are passed from an infected patient to another person. Here are some examples:
Can a person spread the hepatitis B virus and not know it?
Absolutely. Many patients do not know that they are infected because they are not showing any symptoms, making it easy to spread the virus.
Can the hepatitis B virus be spread through sex?
Yes, sexual activity is a major mode of transmission. The hepatitis B virus can be found in the blood, semen, and other body fluids of an infected person.
Is there a vaccine for hepatitis?
Yes, the hepatitis B vaccine is available for all age groups. It is strongly recommended for all infants, children, and teenagers under 19 years of age who have not been vaccinated. The vaccine is also available (and recommended!) for adults and the elderly.
Is the hepatitis B vaccine safe?
Yes, the hepatitis B vaccine is perfectly safe. Soreness at the injection site is the most common side effect. Keep in mind that the safety of vaccines is continually being monitored to maintain high quality standards.
Who should not receive the hepatitis B vaccine?
The hepatitis B vaccine is not recommended for those who have had a serious allergic reaction to a prior dose, to any component of the vaccine, or to yeast.
Is hepatitis contagious?
Yes, hepatitis A, B, and C are all highly contagious.
Is it sexually transmitted?
Yes, hepatitis B can spread when someone has sex with an infected person. Keep in mind that sexual contact is not the only way to spread the virus!
Does hepatitis go away?
Yes, hepatitis typically goes away on its own without treatment. Chronic hepatitis, however, may linger long-term and cause liver damage.
Who is most likely to get chronic (long-term) hepatitis B?
When determining if a viral infection becomes chronic, age plays a major role. In fact, the younger a person is when infected, the greater their chance of developing a chronic infection. About nine in ten infants who contract hepatitis B go on to develop a chronic infection.
The risk of infection drops as a child gets older. About one in three children who contract the virus before age six will develop chronic hepatitis B. On the other hand, almost all older children (over age six) and adults infected with the hepatitis B virus recover fully and do not develop a chronic condition.
How long does the hepatitis B virus survive outside the body?
The hepatitis B virus can survive outside the body for at least one week and may cause infection at any time during that period.
Which form of hepatitis is the most dangerous?
Of all five types (A, B, C, D, E), hepatitis B and C are the most dangerous and may become chronic.
How common is hepatitis B in the United States?
In 2018, 3,322 acute cases were reported to the CDC. Since many people do not show symptoms and may not know that they are infected, the actual number of acute hepatitis B cases may, in fact, be closer to 21,600. Even more people – over 800,00 – are estimated to have chronic hepatitis B.
Is the hepatitis B vaccine recommended before international travel?
Yes, the vaccine is highly recommended before traveling, especially to countries where the hepatitis B vaccine is common. And remember, our Charleston GI specialists advise everyone to get vaccinated, even if they are not leaving the country.