What is hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is a serious liver disease caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). The virus can affect people of all ages. Once infected, some people carry the virus their whole lives. This is called “chronic” infection and it can lead to liver cirrhosis, liver cancer, and death. The virus is found in the blood and body fluids of infected people. It is most often spread among adults through sexual contact, by sharing needles and other drug paraphernalia, or from an HBV-infected mother to her newborn during birth. HBV can also be spread through normal household contact with HBV-infected people.
Some people get sick within the first six months after getting infected. The symptoms of this “acute” hepatitis are loss of appetite, tiredness, stomachache, nausea, and vomiting. These people might also experience yellowing of the whites of the eyes (jaundice) or joint pain. For some people, acute infection leads to chronic infection. People with chronic HBV infection usually do not feel sick for many years, but will have symptoms if they develop the most serious complications from hepatitis B, like cirrhosis or liver cancer. A person infected with the virus can pass it on to others even if he or she does not feel sick or show symptoms.
There is no specific treatment for newly acquired HBV infection. Medicines are available to treat people with chronic hepatitis B. These medicines work for some people, but not for all.
Safe, effective hepatitis B vaccines are available. The vaccination series is usually given as three doses over a six-month period. Hepatitis B vaccine is the first anti-cancer vaccine because it prevents liver cancer caused by chronic HBV infection.
Who should get hepatitis B vaccine?
- Adults with diabetes age 19 through 59 years. Vaccination can be considered in those with diabetes who are age 60 and older.
- Sexually active adults who are not in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship.
- People whose sex partners are infected with hepatitis B.
- Persons seeking evaluation or treatment for a sexually transmitted disease.
- Men who have sex with men.
- Current or recent injection-drug users.
- People who have close household contact with someone infected with hepatitis B.
- Healthcare and public safety workers at risk for exposure to blood or blood-contaminated body fluids on the job.
- People with chronic liver disease, end-stage kidney disease, or HIV infection.
- Residents and staff of facilities for developmentally disabled people.
- Travelers to regions with moderate or high rates of hepatitis B infection.
- Anyone who wishes to be protected from hepatitis B infection.
Hepatitis B vaccine is safe and effective. You cannot get hepatitis B from the vaccine. The most common side effect of the vaccine is soreness at the injection site. As with any medicine, there are very small risks that serious problems could occur after getting the vaccine. However, the potential risks associated with hepatitis B disease are much greater than the potential risks associated with the hepatitis B vaccine.
Disease and vaccine facts
- FACT: Hepatitis B virus infection can be prevented with a safe and effective vaccine. You cannot get hepatitis B from the hepatitis B vaccine.
- FACT: The hepatitis B vaccine prevents liver cancer.
- FACT: An estimated 800,000 to 1.4 million people in the US have chronic HBV infection.
- FACT: Adults age 19 through 59 with diabetes are twice as likely as those without diabetes to develop acute hepatitis B infection.
- FACT: HBV infection kills about 2,000 to 4,000 people in the US each year, usually as the result of complications from liver disease.
- FACT: Hepatitis B infections have declined substantially since 1991 when a strategy to eliminate HBV transmission through immunization was started.
- FACT: More than 50 percent of new hepatitis B cases could be prevented if hepatitis B vaccination were routinely offered to everyone attending sexually transmitted disease clinics and to all correctional facility inmates.
- FACT: Even if a person infected with hepatitis B virus does not feel sick, he or she can still infect others.
- FACT: Hepatitis B infection can result in chronic (life-long) infection that increases a person’s risk of developing chronic liver disease, including cirrhosis and liver cancer.
- FACT: Hepatitis B virus is found in blood and other body fluids such as semen and vaginal secretions.
- FACT: The hepatitis B virus is 100 times more infectious than HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
- FACT: Hepatitis B is a sexually-transmitted disease but can also be transmitted during normal household contact with an infected person.
- FACT: Infants born to hepatitis B-infected women have a very high chance of getting the infection from their mothers unless they receive their first hepatitis B vaccination and immune globulin (IG) at birth.