On This Page: What is Hep B? | Causes | Risk Factors | Prevention
Hepatitis is simply a term for when the liver becomes inflamed. Certain viral infections, drinking too much alcohol, being exposed to dangerous toxins, and some medications can cause hepatitis. When the liver is inflamed, it isn’t able to operate at its best level which can, in turn, affect the way the rest of the body operates.
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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The hepatitis B virus (HBV) is a contagious viral infection that can cause liver scarring, failure, and cancer. It’s spread through contact with semen, vaginal fluids, and blood, which can happen during sex. According to the Hepatitis B Foundation, up to 80,000 Americans will become newly infected with hepatitis B each year.1
Hepatitis B can be potentially fatal, but most healthy adults fight off the infection in its acute (mild, early) stage and make a total recovery.
However, if hepatitis B lasts a long time, it can cause liver disease. 1 in 20 people infected with hepatitis B become carriers of a chronic (long-lasting) hepatitis B, which can be life-threatening. About 1 in 5 people with chronic hepatitis B die from it.
An acute hepatitis B infection is a short-term illness that runs its course within 6 months after exposure. The intensity of the infection can be mild with few or no symptoms (asymptomatic), or it can be very serious with the potential of requiring hospitalization, although this is rare.
A chronic hepatitis B infection is diagnosed when HBV lasts longer than six months. If hepatitis B remains in the blood this long, it means the immune system was not able to clear the infection, putting the liver at high risk of serious complications.
It is highly recommended that people with a chronic HBV infection seek the care of a doctor to be monitored regularly for signs of liver disease and evaluated for possible treatment. If the chronic infection is not managed, over time it can cause liver damage, cirrhosis, liver cancer, and even death.
The chances that an acute infection may turn into a long-term chronic infection decrease with age.
HBV may be transmitted when blood, semen, or another bodily fluid from an infected person with the virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. You can also get it by having unprotected sex with someone who has hepatitis B.
All individuals who are not immune to HBV are at risk of acquiring hepatitis B. However, your chances increase if you:
Most pregnant women do not know whether they are infected with hepatitis B and can unknowingly pass the virus to their newborns during childbirth, putting the newborn at high risk.
According to the Hepatitis B Foundation, if they are infected with hepatitis B:
If you are experiencing symptoms or find that you may have recently been exposed to hepatitis B, consider getting tested!
Yes, in the United States, hepatitis B is most commonly spread through sex. In fact, this form of transmissions accounts for nearly two-thirds of acute hepatitis B cases! Also, hepatitis B is 50-100 times more infectious than HIV and can be passed through the exchange of body fluids, such as semen, vaginal fluids, and blood.3
The number one way to prevent hepatitis B is by getting vaccinated for the virus prior to being exposed to it. To lower your risk, practice safer sex by consistently using condoms or dental dams and don’t share needles. Being in a monogamous relationship with someone who is not infected with hepatitis B will also prevent infection. Also, talking about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) with your new partner before engaging in a sexual relationship is another way to prevent getting hepatitis B.
Other precautions you can take to avoid acquiring HBV are:
To learn more about testing, diagnoses, vaccination, and treatment for hepatitis B, check out our diagnosis and treatment page.