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Division of Disease Control

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Hepatitis B

Between 850,000-2.2 million persons in the United States have chronic hepatitis B virus infection. Many are unaware of their status.

Hepatitis B can cause severe liver damage and potentially even liver cancer, but it can be prevented with a vaccine.

Ask your doctor during your next visit for a HCV test.

What is Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV), which can be spread from person to person. Hepatitis B is spread through blood or body fluids of an infected person. Infection with hepatitis B can be acute (short-term) or chronic (life-long).

The age at which a person is infected with hepatitis B plays a major role in whether or not a person develops chronic hepatitis B:,

  • Five to ten percent of persons over five years of age who are infected with hepatitis B develop chronic infection.
  • Ninety percent of infants infected with hepatitis B develop chronic infection.
  • Twenty-five to fifty percent of children one to five years of age infected with hepatitis B develop chronic infection.

Symptoms of hepatitis B include:
  • Fever
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine
  • Clay-colored or pale stools
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice (yellowing of eyes and skin)

Symptoms of acute hepatitis B usually last a few weeks, but can last as long as six months. Children under five are less likely to have symptoms when infected with hepatitis B. Persons with chronic hepatitis B infection may not experience any symptoms at all, or may experience disease symptoms.

Persons with acute hepatitis B are contagious until the infection is resolved. Your doctor can tell you when an acute hepatitis B infection has been resolved. Persons with chronic hepatitis B can transmit the virus throughout their life, as chronic hepatitis B infection is life-long. Even if a person is not showing symptoms, they can still spread the virus as long as they are infected.

Chronic hepatitis B infection can lead to long-term health problems, and can eventually lead to liver damage, liver failure, liver cancer, and death.

Hepatitis B can survive outside the body for one week or more and still cause infection. Common disinfectants can kill the virus.

Learn more at Philly Hepatitis.

How do people get hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is spread through blood or body fluids (including semen and vaginal fluids) of an infected person. It is not spread through food or water.

Ways in which hepatitis B can be spread include:

  • Unprotected sexual activity
  • Sharing injection drug equipment
  • Tattooing or piercing if equipment is not cleaned properly
  • During birth from an infected mother to baby
  • Contact with open sores of an infected person
  • Occupational exposure such as needle sticks
  • Sharing personal items such as: razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers, etc.

Learn more at Philly Hepatitis.

Who is most likely to get hepatitis B?

The people most at risk for hepatitis B are:

  • Sexual contacts of people infected with hepatitis B
  • People with multiple sex partners
  • People who have a sexually transmitted disease (STD), or have had an STD in the past
  • Men who have sex with men (MSM)
  • People who share injection drug equipment
  • Babies born to mothers infected with hepatitis B
  • People who work in settings where they may be exposed to blood or bodily fluids
  • Hemodialysis patients
  • People who travel to countries with intermediate to high rates of hepatitis B

What should I do if I think I have hepatitis B?

If you think you may have been exposed to the hepatitis B virus, call your doctor or health professional. If you have been exposed to the hepatitis B virus, vaccine and/or a shot called “HBIG” (hepatitis B immunoglobulin) can be given to prevent hepatitis B infection. Hepatitis B vaccine and HBIG are most effective in preventing hepatitis B infection if they are given within 24 hours of exposure.

If you think you have hepatitis B or have been exposed to hepatitis B, you should contact your doctor and discuss your symptoms. Your doctor may then request a group of blood tests to determine whether or not you have hepatitis B.

There is no specific treatment for acute hepatitis B. Doctors usually recommend rest, adequate nutrition, and fluids.

For chronic hepatitis B, there is treatment available. Not everyone who has chronic hepatitis B is recommended for treatment. Your doctor will take a number of factors into consideration when deciding whether or not you should be on treatment.

How can I prevent hepatitis B?

There are several ways to prevent the transmission of hepatitis B. Vaccination with hepatitis B vaccine is the most effective way to prevent hepatitis B transmission. The hepatitis B vaccine is highly effective and safe. It is recommended for all infants, children, and adolescents through 18 years of age. Infants should be immunized as part of the routine childhood immunization schedule. Hepatitis B vaccine can be given together with other vaccines.

Other people who should be vaccinated for hepatitis B include:

  • Persons whose sex partners have hepatitis B
  • Persons with multiple sex partners
  • Persons who currently have a sexually transmitted disease (STD), or have had an STD in the past
  • Men who have sex with men (MSM)
  • Persons who have close household contact with someone infected with the hepatitis B virus
  • Persons who share injection drug equipment
  • Health care and public safety workers at risk for exposure to blood or body fluids on the job
  • Hemodialysis patients
  • Persons who are incarcerated
  • Persons who work in correctional facilities
  • Persons traveling to countries with moderate or high rates of hepatitis B
  • Residents and staff of facilities for developmentally disabled persons
  • Persons with chronic liver disease, including hepatitis C
  • Persons living with HIV infection

Three to four doses of hepatitis B vaccine are given, and the vaccine schedule may vary. Your doctor will be able to let you know when you will need to come in for vaccination.

Other ways to prevent transmission of hepatitis B include:

  • Using condoms and having safe sex
  • Not sharing injection drug equipment
  • Not sharing personal items including razors, toothbrushes, blood glucose monitoring equipment, etc.
  • Checking to see if tattoo/piercing equipment is clean
  • Vaccinating exposed infants born to mothers who are positive for hepatitis B

How can I prevent hepatitis B?


The public can call 215-685-6462 to learn more about hepatitis screening, treatment, and management.

Health care providers and laboratories can call 215-685-6493 to report a case of hepatitis C.