Hepatitis B is a contagious liver disease that results from infection with the Hepatitis B virus. It can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness.
Hepatitis B is usually spread when blood, genital secretions, or body fluid from a person infected with the Hepatitis B virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. This can happen through sexual contact with an infected person, sharing razors, needles, syringes, or other drug-injection equipment; but it cannot be transmitted by household contacts such as sharing other items such as drinking glasses, silverware or using the same bathroom. Hepatitis B can also be passed from an infected mother to her baby at birth.
Types of Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B can be either acute or chronic.
Acute Hepatitis B virus infection is a short-term illness that occurs within the first 6 months after someone is exposed to the Hepatitis B virus. Acute infection can — but does not always — lead to chronic infection. Chronic Hepatitis B virus infection is a long-term illness that occurs when the Hepatitis B virus remains in a person’s body.
Chronic Hepatitis B is a potentially serious disease that can result in long-term health problems such as liver cirrhosis, liver cancer and even death.
There is no specific treatment recommended for acute — short term illness — Hepatitis B; in 95% of adults, the immune system controls the infection and gets rid of the virus within about six months.
In people who develop chronic — long term illness — Hepatitis B, an antiviral medication might be recommended to reduce or reverse liver damage and to prevent long-term complications of Hepatitis B.
Several antiviral medicines are available to treat Hepatitis B effectively. Not all people with Hepatitis B need immediate treatment. If you do not start treatment immediately, you will be monitored over time to know when hepatitis becomes more active (meaning that antiviral treatment should begin).
Once you start treatment, you will have regular monitoring to see how well the treatment is working, monitor for side effects or drug resistance, and monitor for signs that the infection has come back after finishing treatment. In some patients antiviral medications need to be provided indefinitely.
Prevention of Hepatitis B
The best way to prevent Hepatitis B is by getting vaccinated. The current Hepatitis B vaccine, usually a three-dose series is recommended for all children 0-18 years of age. Adults at increased risk of acquiring Hepatitis B infection should receive this vaccine.
This population includes but is not limited to:
- People with liver diseases, including those infected with Hepatitis C
- Healthcare workers
- Sexually active people who are not in long-term, mutually monogamous relationships
- People seeking evaluation or treatment for a sexually transmitted disease
- Household members and sex partners of people with chronic Hepatitis B infection
In addition, the vaccine can be given to any person who desires protection from Hepatitis B.