What Is Hepatitis?

“Hepatitis” means inflammation of the liver. The liver is a vital organ that processes nutrients, filters the blood, and fights infections. When the liver is inflamed or damaged, its function can be affected.

Hepatitis is most often caused by a virus. In the Unites States, the most common types of viral hepatitis are Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C. Heavy alcohol use, toxins, some medications, and certain medical conditions can also cause hepatitis.

What Is Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a contagious liver disease that results from infection with the Hepatitis B virus. When first infected, a person can develop an “acute” infection, which can range in severity from a very mild illness with few or no symptoms to a serious condition requiring hospitalization. Acute Hepatitis B refers to the first 6 months after someone is exposed to the Hepatitis B virus. Some people are able to fight the infection and clear the virus. For others, the infection remains and leads to a “chronic”, or lifelong, illness. Chronic Hepatitis B refers to the illness that occurs when the Hepatitis B virus remains in a person’s body. Over time, the infection can cause serious health problems.

Is Hepatitis B Common?

Yes, In the United States, approximately 1.2 million people have chronic Hepatitis B. Unfortunetly, many people do not know they are infected. The number of new cases of Hepatitis B has decreases more than 80% over the last 20 years. An estimated 40l,000 people now become infected each year. Many experts believe this decline is a result of widespread vaccination of children.

How Is Hepatitis B Spread?

Hepatitis B is usually spread when blood, semen, or other body fluids from a person infected with Hepatitis B virus enter the body of someone who is not infected. This can happen through sexual contact with an infected person or sharing needles, syringes, or other injection drug equipment. Hepatitis B can also be passed from an infected mother to her baby at birth.

Hepatitis B is not spread through breastfeeding, sharing eating utensils, hugging, kissing, holding hands, coughing, or sneezing. Unlike some forms of Hepatitis, Hepatitis B is also not spread by contaminated food or water.

Can Hepatitis B Be Spread Through Sex?

Yes. In the United States, Hepatitis B is most commonly spread through sexual contact. The Hepatitis B virus is 50 – 100 times more infectious that HIV and can be passed through the exchange of body fluids, such as semen, vaginal fluids, and blood.

What Are The Syptoms Of Chronic Hepatitis B?

Many people with chronic Hepatitis B do not have symptoms and do not know they are infected. Even though a person has no symptoms, the virus can still be detected in the blood. Symptoms of chronic Hepatitis B can take up to 30 years to develop. Damage to the liver can silently occur during this time. When symptoms do appear, they are similar to acute infection and can be a sign of advanced liver disease.

How Serious Is Hepatitis B?

Over time, approximately 15%-25% of people with chronic Hepatitis B develop serious liver problems, including liver damage, cirrhosis, liver failure, and liver cancer. Every year, approximately 3,000 people in the United States and more than 600,000 people worldwide die from Hepatitis B-related liver disease.

How Is Hepatitis B Diagnosed And Treated?

Hepatitis B is diagnosed with specific blood tests that are not part of blood work typically done during regular physical exams. For acute Hepatitis B, doctors usually recommend rest, adequate nutrition, fluids, and close medical monitoring. Some people may need to be hospitalized. Those living with chronic Hepatitis B should be evaluated for liver problems and monitored on a regular basis. Even though a person may not have symptoms or feel sick, damage to the liver can still occur. Several new treatments are available that can significantly improve health and delay or reverse the effects of liver disease.


The best way to prevent Hepatitis B is to get vaccinated. For adults, the Hepatitis B vaccine is given as a series of 3 shots over a period of 6 months. The entire series is needed for long-term protection. Booster doses are not currently recommended.

The surest way to avoid transmission of STDs is to abstain from sexual contact, or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and is known to be uninfected.

Hepatitis B and C viruses cannot be spread by casual contact, such as holding hands, sharing eating utensils or drinking glasses, breastfeeding, kissing, hugging, coughing, or sneezing.

Lifestyle measures for preventing spread of hepatitis B and C from one person to another include:

  • Avoid sharing personal items, such as razors or toothbrushes.
  • Do not share drug needles or other drug equipment (such as straws for snorting drugs).
  • Clean blood spills with a solution containing 1 part household bleach to 10 parts water.
  • Be careful when getting tattoos and body piercings.

All people who have sex outside of a monogamous relationship should practice safer sex behaviors to avoid hepatitis B and C.

Regarding sexual contact with those known to have chronic hepatitis:

  • Hepatitis B: avoid sexual contact with a person who has chronic hepatitis B.
  • Hepatitis C: the risk of becoming infected with hepatitis C is low when a person is in a stable, monogamous relationship with someone with hepatitis C. It is recommended you make no changes in sexual practices

Hepatitis B Vaccine-

The vaccine is made from the inactivated (dead) hepatitis B virus. After you get a hepatitis B vaccine, your body learns to attack the hepatitis B virus if you are exposed to it. This means you are very unlikely to get sick with hepatitis B.

Because no vaccine is 100% effective, it is still possible to get hepatitis B, even after you have been completely vaccinated.


The hepatitis B vaccine is given to children as a series of three injections (shots).

  • The first shot is given to infants before leaving the hospital. If the baby’s mother carries the hepatitis B virus, the baby receives the first vaccine shortly after birth.
  • The second shot is given between 1 and 2 months of age.
  • The third shot is given at 6 months of age.

Infants who do not get the first shot until 4 to 8 weeks, will get the second shot at 4 months and the third shot at 6 to 16 months. Either way, the second and third shots are given along with other routine childhood immunizations.

Adolescents who have not been vaccinated should begin the three-shot hepatitis B vaccine series at the earliest possible date.

Adults or children who have not already received the vaccine should get the vaccine series if they:

  • Are household contacts or sexual partners of persons known to be infected with hepatitis B
  • Are men who have sex with other men
  • Are on dialysis
  • Have end-stage kidney disease, chronic liver disease, or HIV infection
  • Have multiple sexual partners
  • Use recreational, injectable drugs
  • Will be having an organ transplant, bone marrow transplant, or chemotherapy

Adults can receive the hepatitis B vaccine only, or a vaccine called Twinrix that protects against both hepatitis A and B. Either series is given in 3 doses.