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Hepatitis B

This fact sheet answers frequently asked questions about Hepatitis B.

Hepatitis B is a virus that can cause the liver to swell. 

The basics

What is hepatitis B?

Most people who have hepatitis B infection can clear the virus from their body. However, in some, the infection never goes away. Long term infection, also called chronic hepatitis B can cause cirrhosis, liver cancer, or liver failure. Usually these problems occur many years after infection.

What steps should pregnant women with hepatitis B take?  

Talk with your doctor about steps you can take now to prevent passing the virus during birth. Make sure your baby receives hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG) and the first dose of hepatitis B vaccine within 12 hours of birth. Ask your doctor when your baby should get the next dose of hepatitis B vaccine. Once they receive all vaccines, test your baby to check their protection against hepatitis B. If you have hepatitis B, it is safe to breastfeed your baby, particularly if the baby has received HBIG and hepatitis B vaccine. 

How is hepatitis B spread?

Hepatitis B spreads when blood, semen, vaginal fluids, or other body fluids from an infected person enter the body of an uninfected person. This can happen through sexual contact, sharing needles, or items like toothbrushes and razors, or when infected blood enters through a cut in the skin. The virus can also spread from an infected mother to her baby during birth. Learn more here


What are the symptoms?

Some people will have no symptoms. If symptoms do appear, they develop as soon as 6 weeks or as long as 6 months after exposure to the virus and can include:

  • Whites of the eye and skin turn yellow
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Flu like symptoms
  • Tiredness
  • Dark brown urine
  • Stomach pain
  • Grey-colored stools (feces)


How can you prevent hepatitis B?

The best way to prevent hepatitis B is to get vaccinated. Other ways to reduce the risk of getting hepatitis B is to avoid contact with blood or body fluids by:    

  • Using protection such as a condom when having sex
  • Wearing gloves when you will come in contact with blood or body fluids
  • Not sharing a toothbrush, razor, or anything else that could have blood on it
  • If you are pregnant, get a blood test for hepatitis B. If you have hepatitis B, be sure your healthcare provider knows so your baby gets a vaccine and HBIG
  • Do not inject drugs not prescribed by a healthcare provider. If you do, seek treatment. If you can’t stop, reduce your risk by not sharing needles or equipment every time you inject

In the event of exposure to the blood or body fluids of an infected person, see a healthcare provider right away.


How do you treat hepatitis B?

Most people with hepatitis B get better without treatment. There is no treatment to prevent acute hepatitis B from becoming a lifelong infection. Some people who have chronic hepatitis B may receive medical treatment. There is a safe and effective vaccine for those who do not have hepatitis B to prevent infection.

Who should get the hepatitis B vaccine?

All newborns and children through the age of 18 and adults over 18 who are at risk should receive the hepatitis vaccine. Persons at risk include those who:

  • Have sex with an infected person or have multiple sexual partners
  • Have a sexually transmitted disease
  • Are men who have sexual contact with other men
  • Inject drugs or share needles, syringes, or other drug equipment
  • Live with a person who has chronic hepatitis B
  • Are babies born to infected mothers
  • Are exposed to blood on the job
  • Are hemodialysis patients
  • Travel to countries with moderate to high rates of hepatitis B 

If you are uncertain whether you are at risk, ask your health care provider.

Who should not get the hepatitis B vaccine?

People who have had a serious reaction to baker’s yeast, other vaccine components, or a previous dose of the vaccine should not get hepatitis B vaccine.

How can a person with hepatitis B take care of themselves?

  • See your health care provider regularly
  • Do not drink alcohol
  • Check with your health care provider before taking any new medicines, including over the counter and herbal medicines
  • Get a vaccine to protect against hepatitis A and get tested for hepatitis C
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