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 lead 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.
How is Hepatitis B spread?
Hepatitis B is usually spread when blood, semen or other body fluids from a person infected with the Hepatitis B virus enter the body of someone who is not infected. This is 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 baby at birth. The Hepatitis B virus is 50-100 times more infectious than HIV and can be passed through the exchange of body fluids.
What are the symptoms of acute Hepatitis B?
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Joint pain
- Dark urine
- Grey-colored stools
What are the symptoms of chronic Hepatitis B?
Many people with chronic Hepatitis B don’t have symptoms and do not know they are infected. Even though the person has no symptoms, the virus can be still detected in the blood. Symptoms can take up to 30 years to develop. Damage to the liver can silently occur during this time. When the 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, liver cancer, cirrhosis, and liver failure.
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.