Hepatitis B Overview
Hepatitis B: A Preventable and Treatable Infection
What is hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is a potentially fatal liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Chronic hepatitis B can slowly destroy the liver over many years, increasing the risk of serious diseases like cirrhosis (liver scarring) and liver cancer. In fact, hepatitis B is the leading cause of liver cancer worldwide, and is second only to tobacco as a cause of human cancer.
How is hepatitis B transmitted?
Hepatitis B is transmitted through infected blood and bodily fluids. This can occur through unprotected sexual contact, contaminated blood and needles (e.g., injecting drugs, tattooing or improperly sterilized medical or dental equipment), sharing sharp personal items like razors or toothbrushes, and from an infected mother to newborn. Infection that is passed from an infected mother to her baby during pregnancy or delivery is the most common way hepatitis B is transmitted throughout the world. Hepatitis B is NOT transmitted through casual contact – it cannot be spread by sharing food, water or eating utensils, or by hugging, kissing, hand-holding, coughing or sneezing.
What can I do to protect myself and family?
The good news is that hepatitis B can be prevented, and it can be managed with the help of your healthcare provider. Here are three simple steps you can take to protect yourself from hepatitis B – and encourage your family and friends to do the same.
Get tested: Hepatitis B can easily be detected with a quick and simple blood test, often available for free or reduced cost at your healthcare provider’s office and at many clinics. The hepatitis B test is not included in routine physical examination blood tests, so it is important that you specifically request a test if you don’t know your status. Everyone should get tested – particularly Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descent.
Get vaccinated: If your hepatitis B blood test is negative, there is a safe and effective vaccine that can provide lifelong protection from the virus. All newborns should receive the hepatitis B vaccine at birth.
Get treated: If you test positive for hepatitis B, see a healthcare provider who is knowledgeable about hepatitis B for regular monitoring of the health of your liver and to talk about whether treatment would be appropriate for you. There are currently seven approved treatments available that can help control hepatitis B and reduce the risk of further liver damage such as cirrhosis and liver cancer.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis B?
The hepatitis B virus often does not cause noticeable symptoms until advanced liver disease has developed – so as many as two-thirds of people who have the virus do not know they are infected. That’s why hepatitis B is often called a “silent” disease. If symptoms do develop, they can include jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin), dark urine, fatigue, nausea and vomiting.
Who is most affected by hepatitis B?
Although anyone can contract hepatitis B, Asians and Pacific Islanders, and African communities, are disproportionately impacted by this infection in the U.S.
Why are African communities in the U.S. disproportionately impacted?
People who come from countries in Africa are at particularly high risk for hepatitis B due the high infection rates in those countries. In many countries in Africa, up to 10% of the population is infected. This is why it is important for all individuals at high risk to get tested for hepatitis B.
What are the serious consequences of hepatitis B?
If left untreated, hepatitis B can lead to serious liver damage over the long term, and even cancer. Without appropriate treatment or monitoring, 1 in 4 individuals with hepatitis B will die from cirrhosis, liver failure or liver cancer. In fact, it is because of their high rates of hepatitis B that Asian Americans are nearly three times more likely to develop liver cancer compared to Caucasians.
For more information:
Hepatitis B Foundation
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Hep B United
World Health Organization