Public Health Fact Sheet
What is Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is a serious disease caused by a virus that attacks the liver. The virus, which is called Hepatitis B virus (HBV), can cause life long infection, cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver cancer, liver failure and death.
How is Hepatitis B spread?
The most common way the disease is spread is through unprotected sexual contact, sharing needles used for injecting drugs or medication, or accidental needle sticks among health care workers. The virus is in blood, semen and vaginal fluids. When one of these infected fluids contacts mucous membranes (soft wet surfaces of the body) or enters through breaks in the skin, the virus may be passed to an uninfected person. Mothers can pass it to infants at birth.
How long after exposure until symptoms begin and how long is a person contagious?
On average, symptoms begin three months after the virus enters the body. This time period can range from six weeks to six months. Most people are contagious several weeks before symptoms appear, and for as long as the virus is in their body.
What do I do if I am exposed or notice symptoms? How is Hepatitis B treated?
While there is no cure for Hepatitis B infection, there are some effective treatments available. Therefore, it is important to see a doctor to follow the course of the infection. The doctor can also recommend symptomatic measures such as rest, change in diet, etc.
How can Hepatitis B be prevented?
There is a vaccine to help prevent Hepatitis B infection. The vaccine is safe and effective and is routinely given to infants with their baby shots. If you have been exposed to Hepatitis B and have not had the shots, then there is Hepatitis B immune globulin that needs to be given immediately.
- Avoid direct contact with another person’s blood or body fluids. If contact occurs, wash up immediately.
- Don’t share toothbrushes, razors, nail clippers or other personal items which may become contaminated with blood.
Symptoms of Hepatitis B
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea & Vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Dark urine
- Joint pain