Learning About Hepatitis B

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What is hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a liver infection. It is caused by the hepatitis B virus. The virus can be spread:

  • Through infected blood, semen, and other body fluids during sexual contact.
  • When people share needles to inject drugs.
  • When an infected person shares items that may have blood on them, such as a razor or toothbrush.
  • When needles used for tattoos, body piercing, or acupuncture are not cleaned properly.

People who handle blood may become infected with the virus. For example, health care workers may get the virus when they treat an infected person.

A mother who has the virus can pass it to her baby during delivery. If you are pregnant and think you may have been exposed to hepatitis B, get tested. If you have the virus, your baby can get shots to help prevent getting the virus.

You can't get hepatitis B from casual contact such as hugging, kissing, sneezing, coughing, or sharing food or drinks.

What happens when you have hepatitis B?

Most adults who get hepatitis B have it for a short time and then get better. This is the acute form of the disease. Sometimes the disease lasts a long time. This is the chronic form. Over time, chronic hepatitis B can damage your liver.

After you have had hepatitis B and recovered, you will not get it again.

What are the symptoms?

Most people who get hepatitis B do not have symptoms. If you have symptoms, they usually start to go away in 2 to 3 weeks. Symptoms may include:

  • Tiredness.
  • Fever.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Light-coloured stools.
  • Dark urine.
  • Yellow skin and eyes (jaundice).

How can you prevent hepatitis B?

You can get hepatitis B or give it to other people both before and after you have symptoms.

Ask your doctor if you need the hepatitis B vaccine. People who may need it include those who inject drugs, have many sex partners, or are likely to be exposed to body fluids (such as health care workers).

To avoid spreading hepatitis B if you have it or to avoid getting it:

  • Use a condom when you have sex.
  • Do not share needles.
  • Do not share toothbrushes or razors.
  • Wear latex or plastic gloves if you have to touch blood.
  • Make sure that needles used for tattoos, body piercing, or acupuncture are cleaned properly.

If you think you have been exposed to the hepatitis B virus, talk to your doctor. Getting a shot of hepatitis B immunoglobulin (HBIG) and the first of three shots of hepatitis B vaccine may help prevent the disease.

How is it treated?

  • If you have acute hepatitis B, you most likely will not need treatment.
  • If you have chronic hepatitis B, you will have to see your doctor regularly to have your liver checked. You may need antiviral medicines to prevent liver damage.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/ed

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