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What is Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is an infection that can cause liver disease. It can be spread through sex. You can protect yourself by getting the hepatitis B vaccine and using condoms.

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How to prevent hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by a virus (called the hepatitis B virus, or HBV). It can be serious and there’s no cure, but the good news is it’s easy to prevent. You can protect yourself by getting the hepatitis B vaccine and having safer sex. If you have oral, anal, and vaginal sex, use condoms and dental dams to help stop the spread of hepatitis B and other STDs.  

How do you get hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is really contagious. It’s transmitted through contact with semen (cum), vaginal fluids, and blood. You can get it from:

  • having vaginal, anal, or oral sex (using a condom or dental dam during sex can help prevent it)

  • sharing toothbrushes and razors (blood on them can carry hepatitis B)

  • sharing needles for shooting drugs, piercings, tattoos, etc.

  • getting stuck with a needle that has the Hep B virus on it.

Hepatitis B can also be passed to babies during birth if their mother has it.

Hepatitis B isn’t spread through saliva (spit), so you CAN’T get hepatitis B from sharing food or drinks or using the same fork or spoon. Hepatitis B is also not spread through kissing, hugging, holding hands, coughing, sneezing, or breastfeeding.

Are there other types of hepatitis?

Yes, the most common kinds of hepatitis are hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. Hepatitis B is the kind that is most likely to be spread through sex. Learn about other kinds of hepatitis.

More questions from patients:

What is hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a virus that can cause liver disease. Sometimes called hep c or HCV for short, hepatitis C can be a mild illness that only lasts for a few weeks or months, or a serious chronic condition that lasts your whole life. Hepatitis C can lead to serious illnesses, like cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer, and can eventually kill you if left untreated.

Hepatitis C Transmission

The hepatitis C virus is transmitted through blood — most commonly from needles and syringes used for taking drugs. But hep c can also be spread from tattoo or piercing needles that haven’t been properly cleaned, by accident in a medical setting, from blood transfusions and organ transplants performed prior to 1992, and from a parent to their baby during childbirth.

Although it’s rare, hep C can also be sexually transmitted. Condoms work well to prevent spreading hepatitis C during sex. Talk with your doctor or nurse about getting tested for hepatitis C if you think you may be at risk.

Hepatitis C Symptoms

Hepatitis C doesn’t always have symptoms. If you do have them, you’re most likely to feel the symptoms 4-12 weeks after being exposed. Those early stage (acute) hepatitis C symptoms can include:

  • tiredness

  • pain in your belly

  • poor appetite

  • jaundice (when your eyes and skin turn yellow)

  • clay-colored stool (poo)

  • dark urine (pee)

  • fever

  • joint pain

  • nausea

  • vomiting

For some people, hepatitis C goes away without treatment after about 6 months. But for most people, hep C turns into a chronic (lifelong) condition.

Chronic hepatitis C rarely has symptoms. Most people find out that they have hepatitis C when they’re diagnosed with advanced liver disease. That’s why it’s important to get checked for hepatitis C if you think you may be at risk.

Hepatitis C Testing

Hepatitis C testing involves a blood test to check for hepatitis C antibodies. If the test is positive, it’s followed up with a test called an RNA test, which determines if the virus is currently active.

Hepatitis C treatment typically consists of antiviral medicine to reduce the amount of the virus in your system. There are also new treatments that may cure it. Your doctor or nurse will likely recommend that you avoid drinking alcohol and taking certain medicines that may harm your liver.

Read more about hepatitis C. If you’re worried you may be at risk, the staff at your nearest Planned Parenthood health center can help.

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