Hepatitis B is a disease caused by a highly infectious virus that attacks the liver. Hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection can lead to severe illness, liver damage and - in some cases - death.
Who is at Risk?
Hepatitis B is a serious public health problem that affects people of all ages in the United States and around the world. Each year, more than 240,000 people contract hepatitis B in the United States. About one out of 20 people in the United States will get hepatitis B sometime during their lives. If you engage in certain behaviors, your risk for hepatitis B may be much higher. You may be at risk for hepatitis B if you:
- Have a job that exposes you to human blood (health care provider).
- Share a household with someone who has HBV infection.
- Inject drugs.
- Have sex with a person infected with HBV.
- Have sex with more than one partner during a six-month period.
- Men who have sex with men.
- Infants born to HBV infected mothers.
- Received blood transfusions in the past before excellent testing was available (1975).
- Are a person whose parents were born in Asia, Africa, the Amazon Basin in South America, the Pacific Islands, Eastern Europe or the Middle East.
- Were born in an area listed above.
- Were adopted from an area listed above.
- Are an Alaska native.
- Have hemophilia.
- Have a job that involves contact with human blood.
- Are a patient or worker in an institution for the developmentally disabled.
- Are an inmate of a long-term correctional facility.
- Travel internationally to areas with a high incidence of hepatitis B.
How Hepatitis B Is Spread
HBV is found in blood and certain body fluids of people infected with HBV, fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal secretions and saliva. Contact with even a small amount of blood can cause infection. Hepatitis B is not found in sweat, tears, urine, or respiratory secretions.
Hepatitis B Can Be Spread By:
- Unprotected sex.
- Injecting drug use.
- During birth from mother to child.
- Contact with blood or open sores of an infected person.
- Human bites.
- Sharing a household with an infected person.
- Sharing items such as razors, toothbrushes or washcloths.
- Pre-chewing food for babies, or sharing chewing gum.
- Using unsterilized needles or other instruments in ear or body piercing, tattooing or acupuncture.
- Use of the same immunization needle on more than one person.
The Symptoms Of Hepatitis B
Most people who get hepatitis B as babies or children don’t look or feel sick at all. Over half of adults who get hepatitis B never have any symptoms of signs of the disease. You may have hepatitis B (and be spreading the disease) and not know it. If people do have signs or symptoms, they may experience any or all of the following:
- Loss of appetite.
- Yellow skin or eyes (jaundice).
- Nausea and/or vomiting.
- Weakness, tiredness, inability to work for weeks or months.
- Abdominal pain and/or joint pain.
- Dark urine.
How Hepatitis B Is Diagnosed And Treated
The only way to know if you are infected with hepatitis B, have recovered, or are a chronic carrier is by having a blood test done at your physician’s office or health care provider. There is no cure for hepatitis B; this is why prevention is so important. People diagnosed with hepatitis B should see their physician regularly for follow-up care.
How Hepatitis B Can Be Prevented
Hepatitis B vaccine is the best protection against HBV. Three doses of this vaccine are needed for complete protection.
All pregnant women should be tested for hepatitis B early in their pregnancy. If the blood test is positive, the baby should receive the vaccine along with another shot (hepatitis B immune globulin), at birth. Then the vaccine series for the baby should be completed during the first six months of life.
Who Should Get Vaccinated
- All babies, at birth.
- All children 11 – 12 years of age whom have not been vaccinated.
- Persons of any age whose behavior puts them at high risk for HBV infection.
- Persons whose jobs expose them to human blood.
For more information about Hepatitis B virus, contact your health care provider, local health department, or the Kentucky Department for Public Health at (502) 564-3261.