Overview of Hepatitis B

The virus that causes hepatitis B (HBV) is transmitted through blood, bodily fluids containing blood, semen, and vaginal fluid. Chronic HBV occurs in about 10 percent of people with the disease and can last for several months or even years. It may cause cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver failure, and liver cancer. People infected with HIV have a greater chance of developing chronic hepatitis B.

Causes and Risk Factors for Hepatitis B

The following are common modes of hepatitis B transmission:

  • Contaminated drug, tattoo, and piercing needles
  • Mother-to-fetus
  • Sexual contact with an infected person

Signs and Symptoms of Hepatitis B

Many of the signs and symptoms of HBV are similar to hepatitis A, with some distinguishing signs:

  • Jaundice
  • Joint and body pain
  • Rash

The incubation period of HBV can be several weeks to several months and many people experience the first symptoms 6 months after infection.

Hepatitis B Diagnosis

Diagnosis is the same as for other types of hepatitis, but the blood test reveals the HBV antigen.

Hepatitis B Treatment

Drug therapy for HBV consists of interferon alfa-2b and, recently, lamivudine, two antiviral agents given intramuscularly that stop the virus from reproducing and support the immune system. Lamivudine is also a first-line treatment for HIV. If given within 2 weeks of exposure, immune globulin (IG) may be effective in 75 to 95 percent of people who are not vaccinated. Side effects include flu-like symptoms.

Hepatitis B Prevention

HBV prevention includes safer sex; avoiding used drug, tattoo, and piercing needles; and hepatitis B vaccination. The vaccination consists of 3 doses:

  • the initial dose,
  • an additional dose 1 month later, and
  • the final dose 6 months later.

There are currently no recommendations for booster shots for this vaccine.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at HealthCommunities.com

Published: 31 Jul 2001

Last Modified: 27 Oct 2015