Hepatitis B is irritation and swelling (inflammation) of the liver due to infection with the hepatitis B virus (HBV).
Other types of viral hepatitis include:
Hepatitis B infection is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV).You can catch hepatitis B through contact with the blood or body fluids (such as semen, vaginal fluids, and saliva) of a person who has the virus.
Exposure may occur:
People who may be at risk of hepatitis B are those who:
After you first become infected with the hepatitis B virus:
Symptoms of hepatitis B may not appear for up to 6 months after the time of infection. Early symptoms include:
Symptoms will go away in a few weeks to months if your body is able to fight off the infection. Some people never get rid of the hepatitis B virus. This is called chronic hepatitis B.
People with chronic hepatitis may not have symptoms and not know they are infected. Over time, they may develop symptoms of liver damage and cirrhosis of the liver.
You can spread the hepatitis B virus to other people even if you have no symptoms.
A series of blood tests called the hepatitis viral panel is done to help diagnose the condition.
The following tests are done to look for liver damage if you have chronic hepatitis B:
You will also have a test to measure the level of HBV in your blood (viral load). This lets your doctors know how your treatment is working.
Acute hepatitis, unless severe, needs no treatment. Liver and other body functions are watched using blood tests. You should get plenty of bed rest, drink plenty of fluids, and eat healthy foods.
Some patients with chronic hepatitis may be treated with antiviral drugs. These medicines can decrease or remove hepatitis B from the blood. They also help to reduce the risk of cirrhosis and liver cancer.
It is not always clear which patients with chronic hepatitis B should receive drug therapy and when drug therapy should be started. You are more likely to receive these medicines if:
For these medicines to work best, you need to take them as instructed by your health care provider. Ask what side effects you can expect and what to do if you have them. Not everybody who needs to take these medicines responds well.
If you develop liver failure, you may receive a liver transplant. A liver transplant is the only cure in some cases of liver failure.
Other steps you can take:
Severe liver damage, or cirrhosis, can be caused by hepatitis B.
Some people benefit from attending a liver disease support group.
The acute illness usually goes away after 2 to 3 weeks. The liver usually returns to normal within 4 to 6 months in most people.
Almost all newborns and about half of children who get hepatitis B develop the chronic condition. Very few adults who get the virus develop chronic hepatitis B.
About 1 in 100 people who get hepatitis B dies from the condition.
There is a much higher rate of liver cancer in people who have chronic hepatitis B.
Call your doctor if:
Children and people at high risk for hepatitis B should get the hepatitis B vaccine.
All blood used for blood transfusions is screened, so the chance of getting the virus in this way is very small.
The hepatitis B vaccine or a hepatitis immune globulin (HBIG) shot may help prevent infection if you receive it within 24 hours of contact with the virus.
Measures to avoid contact with blood and body fluids can help prevent the spread of hepatitis B from person-to-person.
Reviewed By: George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.