- Hepatitis B is an infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV)
- The incubation period of hepatitis B is long (45 -160 days; average being 120)
- HBV infection may occur in 2 phases, acute or chronic
- Acute phase occurs just after the person has been infected and lasts from several weeks to a few months
- Some people are unable to resolve the infection and become "chronic carriers" with HBV remaining in the liver and the blood
- Can cause long-term liver disease
- 90% of infants infected during birth become chronic carriers
What are the symptoms of Hepatitis B?
- Symptoms may include: fatigue, abdominal pain, fever, loss of appetite, vomiting, and jaundice (yellowing of the eyes or skin)
- About half of those infected with hepatitis B have these symptoms before they recover; but the other half of hepatitis B-infected people do not develop the worst symptoms, and have only a mild flu-like illness before recovering or no symptoms at all, and may never realize that they were infected.
If you have no symptoms of Hepatitis B infection, can you still be a carrier?
- Yes. In fact, the chances of becoming a carrier are actually greater if symptoms of hepatitis B infection do not develop.
How is Hepatitis B infection diagnosed?
- Past infection, active infection, and chronic carrier state can all be detected by a blood test for Hepatitis B antibodies and antigens (viral proteins)
Who is at high risk of Hepatitis B infection?
- It is important to realize that about one third of hepatitis B cases occur in people who do not belong to any identifiable risk group.
- This probably occurs because Hepatitis B is extremely contagious; exposure to even tiny amounts of blood or body fluids can cause infection.
- The Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is very hardy and can survive outside the body (in dried blood for instance) for a week or more. Experts believe that Hepatitis B cases, for which there is no known infection source, are often the results of transmission within households from unidentified carriers.
- Brushing one's teeth with an infected person's toothbrush, or using their razor can transmit the virus.
The following groups are considered at high risk of infection with hepatitis B:
- Intravenous drug users
- Health care workers
- Those living with a person who has an acute infection or is a chronic carrier
- Heterosexuals with multiple sex partners (more than 1 every 6 months)
- Sexually active gay men
- Recipients of certain blood products (i.e. hemophiliacs) and those on hemodialysis
- Children born to immigrants from areas where hepatitis B is very common, such as sub-Sahara Africa, China and Southeast Asia, Alaska, and the Pacific Islands
- International travelers who spend time in areas where infection rates are high
- Infants born to infected women
- Sexually active adolescents (people ages 15 to 39 years comprise 75% of all new HBV cases)