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We all want to protect ourselves and each other from infections like hepatitis B. Learning more about hepatitis B is an important first step.
Here are some of the most common questions we hear people ask about hepatitis B. We hope you find the answers helpful, whether you think you may have hepatitis B, have been diagnosed with it, or are just curious about it.
You may have heard of hepatitis, but many people are not sure what it is. Hepatitis is an infection of the liver. The group of viruses that infect the liver are called hepatitis viruses. Some types of hepatitis can cause very serious diseases and — in extreme cases — may lead to death.
Three types of hepatitis virus can be sexually transmitted. The type of hepatitis most likely to be sexually transmitted is hepatitis B (HBV). Hepatitis B is spread through semen, vaginal fluids, blood, and urine.
About 46,000 American women, men, and children become infected with HBV each year. Most of these infections occur among people who are age 20 to 49.
Other Kinds of Hepatitis That Can Be Spread During Sex
Because hepatitis B often has no symptoms, most people are not aware that they have the infection. About 1 out of 2 adults who have it never have hepatitis B symptoms. When hepatitis B symptoms do occur, they usually appear between six weeks and six months after infection.
When hepatitis B symptoms do develop, the ones most likely to happen first include
Later hepatitis B symptoms include
A health care provider can do a blood test to see if you have hepatitis — whether or not you have hepatitis B symptoms.
No, there is no medicine that can cure hepatitis. But in most cases, hepatitis B goes away by itself within 4 to 8 weeks. More than 9 out of 10 adults with HBV recover completely.
However, about 1 out of 20 people who get HBV as adults will be "carriers" and have chronic (long-term) infection with HBV. Nine out of 10 infants who get HBV at birth will have chronic infection unless they receive immediate treatment. Most HBV carriers remain contagious for the rest of their lives. There are about one and a quarter million HBV carriers in the U.S.
HBV carriers are more likely to pass the infection to other people. Chronic HBV infections can lead to severe liver disease — including liver damage (cirrhosis) and liver cancer. About 1 out of 5 people with chronic HBV infection die from the infection.
There are drugs that can help treat chronic hepatitis B. Keep in mind that pregnant women can't use these drugs.
Staff at your local Planned Parenthood health center, many other clinics, health departments, and private health care providers can diagnose hepatitis and help you get any treatment you may need.
Hepatitis B is very contagious. It is passed through an exchange of semen, vaginal fluids, blood, and urine by
HBV can also be passed from mother to infant during birth.
Pregnancy and Hepatitis B
Pregnant women who know they may have been exposed to hepatitis B should be tested before giving birth. Other women should consider testing. Talk with your health care provider to see if testing may be right for you either before you get pregnant, or during your pregnancy.
Unless treated at birth, 9 out of 10 infants born to women with HBV will carry the virus. Immediate treatment of the infant can be 90 to 95 percent effective. Treatment includes a shot at birth, followed by two more shots given during the next six months.
There are several ways to help prevent getting hepatitis B or spreading it to other people.
If you are exposed to the semen, vaginal fluids, blood, or urine of someone with HBV and you have not already received the HBV vaccine, see your health care provider right away. You can reduce your risk of infection by getting treatment within 14 days of being exposed.
The vaccine protects against the hepatitis B virus by making your body's immune system develop antibodies. The antibodies will protect you by fighting off the virus if you ever come in contact with it in the future.
The hepatitis B vaccine is given in a series of three shots. The first and second shot are given one month apart. The third shot is usually given six months after the first shot. If you miss your second or third shot, get it as soon as possible.
The vaccine has been very successful. In fact, the number of people who get HBV each year has dropped from 260,000 in the 1980s to 46,000 in 2006.
There is a vaccine for people at risk for hepatitis A, too. And there is a vaccine against both hepatitis A and B that can be used for people 18 and older. The combination vaccine reduces the total number of shots from 5 to 3. Ask your health care provider about your options.
Today, the hepatitis B vaccine is routinely given to infants and children up to 18 years of age. But adults who are at risk for getting HBV should also get vaccinated.
Hepatitis B is passed through an exchange of semen, vaginal fluids, blood, and urine by
If you have done any of these things, talk to your health care provider about whether the hepatitis B vaccine is right for you.
Studies show that the hepatitis B vaccine is safe for most people. It is safe enough to be routinely given to newborns and infants, as well as adults. The most common side effects are soreness, redness, swelling, or itching around the area where the shot is given. Some people get a mild fever. But these symptoms do not last long and go away on their own.
As with all vaccines, there is a very small risk of an allergic reaction. If you have dizziness, a fast heartbeat, high fever, hives, or weakness, call your health care provider right away. If you have difficulty breathing, call 911 immediately.
No. There is no live virus in the vaccine, so it cannot give you an infection.
No. The hepatitis B vaccine only prevents new hepatitis B infections. It cannot treat hepatitis B if you already have it.
If you are exposed to the semen, vaginal fluids, blood, or urine of someone with hepatitis B and you have not already received the hepatitis B vaccine, see your health care provider right away. You can reduce your risk of infection by getting treatment within 14 days after being exposed.
Many Planned Parenthood health centers offer the hepatitis B vaccine. You can also get it from other clinics, health departments, and private health care providers.
Q&A with Dr. Cullins