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Hepatitis B (HBV)

What is hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a viral infection that infects the liver and causes inflammation.It infects approximately 120,000 Americans each year. Most individuals infected with the virus are adolescents and young adults.

Ninety percent of people with hepatitis B recover. In up to 10% of cases people infected with hepatitis B develop chronic hepatitis B and are infected for life. Chronic hepatitis can be fairly harmless, or it may be progressive and lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer, and death. Chances of developing liver cancer are 200times greater if you are a chronic carrier. Damage to the liver cannot be reversed.People who are chronic carriers of the virus can transmit it to others.

There is no cure for hepatitis B but an effective vaccine is available to prevent infection.

How is it transmitted?

Hepatitis B is very infectious. In fact, it is at least 100 times more infectious than HIV. When the virus enters the bloodstream it begins to invade the liver cells disrupting normal liver function.

The disease can be spread through the use of contaminated syringes, needles, or unsterilized instruments, including needles of steroid injections, tattoos and bodypiercing. Hepatitis B can also be transmitted if you are exposed to infected blood through cuts, open sores or mucous membranes (mouth or vagina) and can be transmitted through semen, vaginal secretions, and rarely saliva. The more partners with whom you have vaginal, anal or oral intercourse, the higher your risk of becoming infected with HBV.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of Hepatitis B may appear as long as 4 weeks to 6 months after infection with the virus. Many people develop a chronic or ongoing form of the disease with only vague symptoms even though liver damage may be occurring. About 30% of persons have no signs or symptoms of hepatitis B.

Early symptoms of viral hepatitis include:

  • Low-grade fever
  • Itching, hives, generalized aches
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Foul breath and bitter taste in the mouth
  • Loss of appetite, altered sense of taste and smell
  • Pain or tenderness just below the ribs on the right side, especially when pressure is applied

Symptoms that may follow several days later include:

  • Darkened urine
  • Light colored or gray stool
  • Yellowish skin and eyes (jaundice)

How is it diagnosed?

In addition to a brief physical examination the health care provider may use blood and urine tests. A biopsy may be necessary to diagnose chronic hepatitis.

How is it treated?

There is no cure for hepatitis B. Rest and a high protein diet are usually recommended to help repair damaged cells and a high carbohydrate diet to protect the liver.Your health care provider will manage symptoms as they occur.

How long will the effects last?

Symptoms generally last 1 to 8 weeks and are usually followed by a slow but complete recovery. It may take 6 months before the liver functions normally again.

What can be done to prevent the spread of hepatitis B if I am infected?

Hepatitis B is highly contagious for 4 to 6 weeks before symptoms appear and continues to be contagious for a short time afterward. Your provider will want to see you for a follow-up exam. Then he or she will perform blood tests to determine if hepatitis B is still contagious.

To avoid spreading the disease to others:

  • Be careful about cleanliness and personal hygiene
  • Avoid sharing needles, razor blades, and toothbrushes with others
  • Do not donate blood, and clean any spilled blood with a disinfectant
  • Inform partner of your infection
  • Always use a condom for anal, vaginal, or oral intercourse
  • Ask your health care provider about getting the safe, effective vaccine for hepatitis B

How can I protect myself?

A safe, effective vaccine is available for hepatitis B and is required for all UCSB students. If you have not already been vaccinated against hepatitis B, the vaccine is available at the Student Health Center.

If you have anal, oral or vaginal intercourse, always use a condom.

Adapted from: Hepatitis B: The Silent Epidemic (American College Health Association,1995), Hepatitis B: The STD with No Cure (American Health Association, 1995), The ABCs of Viral Hepatitis (American College Health Association, 1990): Michelle Kitchman'95; Tracking the Hidden Epidemics: Trends in STDs in the United States 2000 (CDC).

Hepatitis B Home Page/CDC