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Hepatitis B

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 lifelong infection, cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, liver cancer, liver failure, and death. The disease is fairly common; almost 600 cases are reported in Wisconsin each year.

Who is at risk for hepatitis B?

People of all ages get hepatitis B. One out of every 20 people in the United States will get infected with HBV some time during their lives. Those at risk include:
injection drug users
healthcare workers
men who have sex with men
heterosexuals with multiple partners
sexual partners of people with HBV
hemodialysis patients/ hemophiliacs
people who live in the same household with someone who has lifelong HBV infection
infants born to infected mothers
infants or children of immigrants from HBV-endemic countries
If you are at risk for HBV infection, ask your health care provider about hepatitis B vaccine.

How do you get hepatitis B?
You get hepatitis B by direct contact with the blood or body fluids of an infected person; for example, you can become infected by having sex or sharing needles with an infected person. A baby can get hepatitis B from an infected mother during childbirth. Hepatitis B is not spread through food or water or by casual contact.

What does the term "hepatitis B carrier" mean?
Hepatitis B carriers are people who are have chronic (long-term) infection with HBV and never recover fully from the infection; they carry the virus and can infect others for the rest of their lives. In the United States, about one million people carry HBV.

How do you know if you have hepatitis B?
Only a blood test can tell for sure. You may have hepatitis B (and be spreading the disease) and not know it; sometimes a person with HBV infection has no symptoms at all.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis B?
Symptoms may include:
poor appetite
nausea, vomiting, fever
stomach pain
joint pain or rash
yellow eyes or skin (jaundice)
See your doctor if you experience symptoms of hepatitis, or if you have had direct contact with someone who has hepatitis B.

When do symptoms appear?
Symptoms usually appear 2-3 months after exposure (range: 1 ½- 6 months).Top of Page

Is there a cure for hepatitis B?
There are medications available to treat long-lasting (chronic) HBV-infection. These work for some people, but there is no cure for hepatitis B. That is why prevention is so important. Hepatitis B vaccine is the best protection against HBV.

How can I prevent hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B vaccine is available for all age groups to prevent hepatitis B virus infection. The vaccine is safe, effective, and your best protection.
If you are having sex, but not with one steady partner, use latex condoms correctly every time you have sex. The efficacy of latex condoms in preventing infection with HBV is unknown, but their proper use may reduce transmission.
Don't share anything that might have blood on it, such as a razor or toothbrush.
If you inject drugs, don't share syringes, cookers, cottons, water, or rinse cups.
Think about the health risks if you are planning to get a tattoo or body piercing. You can get infected if the artist or piercer doesn't sterilize needles and equipment, use disposable gloves, and wash hands properly.
Follow standard precautions. If you are a health-care worker, follow standard precautions and handle needles and sharps safely.

If you are pregnant, should you worry about hepatitis B?
If you have HBV in your blood, you can give hepatitis B to your baby. Babies who get HBV at birth may have the virus for the rest of their lives, can spread the disease, and can get cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer.

All pregnant women should be tested for HBV early in their pregnancy. If the blood test is positive, the baby should receive vaccine along with another shot, hepatitis B immune globulin (called HBIG), at birth. The second dose of vaccine should be given at 1-2 months of age and the third dose at 6 months of age.

Who should get vaccinated?
all babies, at birth, especially infants of infected mothers
all children 0-18 years of age who have not been vaccinated
persons whose jobs expose them to human blood
anyone with a sex partner who has hepatitis B
men who have sex with men
anyone who has had a sexually transmitted disease
anyone who has sex with more than one partner
injection drug users
kidney dialysis patients
household contacts of a person with hepatitis B

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Division of Viral Hepatitis
Wisconsin Division of Public Health - Bureau of Communicable Diseases

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