What is hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a serious infection that affects the liver. It is caused by the hepatitis B virus.  

  • In 2009, about 38,000 people became infected with hepatitis B.
  • Each year about 2,000 to 4,000 people die in the United States from cirrhosis or liver cancer caused by
    hepatitis B.

Hepatitis B can cause:

Acute illness, with symptoms such as loss of appetite, diarrhea, vomiting, fatigue, yellow skin or eyes, and muscle, joint, and stomach pain, is more common among adults. Children who become infected usually do not have symptoms.

Some people go on to develop chronic hepatitis B infection. Most of them do not have symptoms, but the infection is still very serious, and can lead to liver damage, liver cancer, or possibly death.

Chronic infection is more common among infants and children than among adults. People who are chronically infected can spread hepatitis B virus to others, even if they don’t look or feel sick. Up to 1.4 million people in the United States may have chronic hepatitis B infection.

Hepatitis B virus is easily spread through contact with the blood or other body fluids of an infected person. People can also be infected from contact with a contaminated object, where the virus can live for up to 7 days.

  • A baby whose mother is infected can be infected at birth;
  • Children, adolescents, and adults can become infected by:

- contact with blood and body fluids through breaks in the skin such as bites, cuts, or sores;

- contact with objects that have blood or body fluids on them such as toothbrushes, razors, or monitoring and treatment devices for diabetes;

- having unprotected sex with an infected person;

- sharing needles when injecting drugs;

- being stuck with a used needle.

Who should get hepatitis B vaccine and when?

  • All unvaccinated adults at risk for hepatitis B infection should be vaccinated. This includes:

- sex partners of people infected with hepatitis B,

- men who have sex with men,

- people who inject street drugs,

- people with more than one sex partner,

- people with chronic liver or kidney disease,

- people under 60 years of age with diabetes, 

- people with jobs that expose them to human blood or  other body fluids,

- household contacts of people infected with hepatitis B,

- residents and staff in institutions for the developmentally disabled,

- kidney dialysis patients,

- people who travel to countries where hepatitis B is common,

- people with HIV infection.

  • Adults 60 and older with diabetes are encouraged to get vaccinated for Hepatitis B. 
  • Pregnant women who are at risk for one of the reasons stated above should be vaccinated. 

Adults getting hepatitis B vaccine should get 3 doses—with the second dose given 4 weeks after the first and the third dose 5 months after the second. 

How can I learn more?