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Hepatitis B

What is Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B (formerly known as serum Hepatitis) is a liver disease caused by the Hepatitis B Virus.  The disease affects 140,000 – 320,000 persons per year in the United States.

Who gets Hepatitis B?

Anyone can get Hepatitis B, but those at greatest risk include:

  • Babies born to mothers who are infectious with the Hepatitis B Virus (including carriers);
  • Injection drug users (or persons who share needles);
  • Persons in occupations where there is contact with infected blood and other infectious body fluids, which include saliva (persons who work in settings such as centers, healthcare workers, first responders, etc.);
  • Sexually active homosexual and bisexual men;
  • Anyone with multiple sex partners;
  • Men and women who have a recent diagnosis of another sexually transmitted disease;
  • Hemodialysis patients;
  • Persons who receive unscreened blood products;
  • Certain household contacts of an infected person;
  • Household contacts and sexual partners of Hepatitis B carriers;
  • Inmates of long term correctional facilities;
  • Persons from countries where Hepatitis B is widespread (certain areas of Asia and Africa);
  • Persons in the United States who are Alaskan Natives or Pacific Islanders.

How is the virus spread?

Hepatitis B Virus can be found in the blood of infected persons; it is also present in lesser amounts in semen, semen vaginal secretions, amniotic fluid, body fluids containing blood, unfixed tissues and organs, and saliva.  Hepatitis B virus is spread through sexual contact (homosexual and heterosexual), needle sharing, needle stick injury, mucous membrane exposure, and direct contact with infected body fluids.  Hepatitis B virus is not spread by casual contact.

What are the symptoms of Hepatitis B?

Many persons with Hepatitis B infection have no symptoms at all, or they may be mild and flu like (i.e.: loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fatigue).  Some patients may notice darkened urine (iced tea colored), light colored stools or yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice).  A few persons will experience a more severe disease syndrome and may die of overwhelming liver failure.

How soon do symptoms appear?

The symptoms, if they appear, may occur as early as 45 days to as long as 180 days following exposure, the average is 60 – 90 days.  The variation in time for onset of symptoms is related in part to the amount of virus transmitted at the time of exposure.

How is Hepatitis B diagnosed?

Since there are several types of viral Hepatitis, a blood test is needed to determine, which type of Hepatitis is present.

Office of Infectious Disease Epidemiology

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