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Hepatitis B Overview

What is hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a liver disease that can range from mild to a serious, lifelong illness. The hepatitis B virus causes inflammation of the liver which may lead to liver cancer, liver failure and even death. There are two stages to the disease: Acute and chronic.

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Hepatitis B is a serious liver infection that is manageable when caught in the first six months. It can be contracted through sexual activities, infected blood or sharing needles. Approximately 70% of cases are symptomless, so get tested if you may have been exposed.

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Acute hepatitis B infection

The early stage (first 6 months) of an hepatitis B infection is called the acute stage and is manageable. Acute hepatitis B can range from mild illness with very few or no symptoms to a serious condition that may require hospitalization. Some people are able to fight the infection and cure the virus during the early stages.

Chronic hepatitis B infection

The later stage of the hepatitis B infection (longer than 6 months) is known as chronic hepatitis B. This chronic stage is more serious and may cause lifelong health problems. Hepatitis B can not only affect adults, but babies and children as well. Left untreated, hepatitis B infections can lead to serious health problems. Each year, approximately 3,000-5,000 people in the United States die from liver damage or liver cancer caused by hepatitis B.

As of 2009, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 800,000 to 1.4 million cases of chronic hepatitis B in the United States.

How is hepatitis B transmitted?

Hepatitis B is most commonly spread through contact with the blood or sexual fluids of an infected person. That is why the hepatitis B virus can be transmitted through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sexual intercourse, or by sharing needles, syringes or other drug-injection equipment. You are also at risk of contracting the virus if you share toiletries such as toothbrushes and razors (since they can come in contact with blood and open sores), or come in contact with open sores or cuts of an infected person. According to the CDC, hepatitis B is not spread through utensils, breastfeeding, hugging, kissing, holding hands, coughing or sneezing.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis B?

In some cases, people with hepatitis B may be asymptomatic or have mild symptoms. However, 70 percent of adults will develop acute hepatitis B-related symptoms.

Symptoms of hepatitis B include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine
  • Clay-colored bowel movements
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice

On average, hepatitis B symptoms appear 3 months after exposure, but can appear anytime between 6 weeks to 6 months. If present, symptoms may last a few weeks or up to 6 months. Transmission from an infected person to an uninfected person is possible even when symptoms are not present.

How hepatitis B testing works

Getting tested for hepatitis B with STDcheck.com is easy and fast. Our CLIA-certified test centers will collect a small blood sample and test it for hepatitis B. Our FDA-approved hepatitis B test detects acute hepatitis B infections, and can also be used to help diagnose chronic (old) hepatitis B infections. Detecting an early hepatitis B infection is important to avoid health complications. If you test positive for hepatitis B, our labs will run a confirmation test at no additional cost. This ensures that you receive the most sensitive and accurate results. This test is included in our 10 Test-Panel or in our individual STD test package. No undressing or uncomfortable swabbing is necessary.

Where to get tested for hepatitis B

STDcheck.com has over 4,500 testing centers throughout the United States with some locations open on Saturday for your convenience. To find a local hepatitis B testing center near you, simply go to our STD test center location page and enter your zip code. You will be given a list of nearby centers. Choose a location and complete your order. You can also call us at 1-800-456-2323 or use our live chat feature and one of our certified health specialists will be happy to assist you.

Is hepatitis B curable?

While there is no cure for hepatitis B, more than 90 percent of healthy adults who contract the virus will recover naturally from it within the first year. Treatment for hepatitis B includes: adequate rest, nutrition and fluid-intake, as well as close monitoring of the liver’s health and the individual’s overall health. Some cases may be more severe and might require hospitalization.

Effects of untreated hepatitis B

Without treatment or close monitoring, acute hepatitis B could lead to chronic hepatitis B. Untreated chronic hepatitis B can lead to liver failure, cirrhosis, liver cancer and even death. The best way to know if you have hepatitis B is to get tested. Consider getting tested for hepatitis B as part of your routine STD testing or if you are at risk.

Ways to prevent hepatitis B

The number one way to prevent hepatitis B is by getting vaccinated for the virus prior to being exposed to it. Abstinence from all sexual activities and intravenous drug use are the only other sure-fire ways to prevent contracting hepatitis B. If you are not willing to abstain from sex, you should practice safer sex by consistently using condoms or dental dams. Being in a monogamous relationship with someone who is not infected with hepatitis B will also prevent infection. Talking about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) with your new partner before engaging in sexual relationship is another way to prevent getting hepatitis B.

  1. "Surveillance for Acute Viral Hepatitis --- United States, 2007." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/MMWR/Preview/MMWRhtml/ss5803a1.htm
  2. "HEPATITIS B General Information." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/HBV/PDFs/HepBGeneralFactSheet.pdf
  3. Hepbtalk. "Newly Diagnosed with Hepatitis B? How Did I Get This? Learning the HBV Transmission Basics." Hepatitis B Foundation. https://www.hepb.org/blog/newly-diagnosed-with-hepatitis-b-how-did-i-get-this-learning-the-hbv-basics-transmission-part-i/
  4. "Hepatitis B | HBV ." MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/hepatitisb.html

Medically Reviewed by on Jun 18, 2019

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