Hepatitis B Symptoms

Hepatitis B is a viral infection that can cause serious liver damage. Hepatitis B symptoms can be mild or severe, but not everyone has symptoms. Hepatitis B usually resolves within six months, but for some people the infection never goes away.

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What is Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). There are other hepatitis viruses: A, B, C, D, and E. “Hepatitis” means inflammation of the liver; all of these viruses affect the liver. Hepatitis B and C can be transmitted sexually.

Hepatitis B can be either acute (when it lasts 6 months or less) or chronic (when it never goes away). For many people the disease is mild, but it can be serious and lead to life-threatening problems such as cirrhosis (scarring) or cancer of the liver. Luckily, there is a vaccine to help prevent infection.

How is Hepatitis B Prevented?

The best way to prevent hepatitis B is to get vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that all children receive the vaccine. Adults who are at risk of getting other STDs, who are HIV+, or who want to reduce their chances of getting infected should also get the vaccine. The vaccine usually requires 2 – 4 shots over several months, and it should provide protection for an entire lifetime. If you have not been vaccinated, talk to your provider about whether the vaccine is right for you.

HBV is contagious even when people don’t have symptoms. It is passed on through exposure to body fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and saliva. Because of this, it can be transmitted through vaginal, oral, and anal sex. You can avoid infection through a variety of safer sex practices. Using latex condoms and dental dams, reducing your number of partners, being in a mutually monogamous relationship, and even abstinence are all ways of decreasing your risk of exposure. 

People who use IV drugs should not share needles.

Do not share needles, razors, or toothbrushes with anyone who has or may have the hepatitis virus. If any of these items are exposed to infected blood (through pokes, homemade tattoos or piercings, nicks, or bleeding gums), sharing them could expose you to HBV. Hepatitis B is not contracted through casual contact like hugging or through breastfeeding.

People who haven’t been vaccinated but have been exposed to HBV can receive the vaccine plus an injection of an immunoglobulin, a treatment that can prevent you from getting sick with the virus.

What do Hepatitis B Symptoms Look Like?

Hepatitis B often has no symptoms at all. In fact, as many as half of people infected with HBV don’t. When symptoms are present, they can be mild or look like symptoms seen with colds and the flu. They may not be noticeable until an average of 3 months after exposure to the virus. Oftentimes hepatitis B symptoms come and go with the person never realizing that they had hepatitis.

Some of the most common Hepatitis B symptoms are listed below.

For many people, hepatitis B will go away on its own over a period of days or weeks as their bodies’ immune systems fight off the infection. This is known as an acute infection. For others, their body will never get rid of the virus, and they develop what is known as chronic hepatitis B.

Chronic hepatitis B symptoms are the same as those of acute HBV infection, but the majority of people have no symptoms at all. Chronic hepatitis B can lead to very serious complications, including cirrhosis (scarring) and cancer of the liver.

What Can I Expect When I Get Tested for Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is diagnosed with a blood test that looks for antibodies to HBV (made by your immune system) plus evidence of the virus itself. The hepatitis B test can tell whether you have an acute HBV infection, had an infection in the past, or if you have been vaccinated. It takes an average of 4 weeks after you are infected for this test to be positive, so it is possible to have a false negative test result during this time. 

What Can I Expect From Hepatitis B Treatment?

Hepatitis B has no cure but most people’s immune systems can get rid of the virus. The symptoms typically go away on their own after several weeks, but they may last up to 6 months. Most people only need rest, healthy food, and plenty of fluids.

For those with chronic hepatitis B, the goal of treatment is to prevent liver damage and to prevent the spread of the virus to others. Antiviral drugs may be prescribed. People infected with HBV should also avoid anything else that could cause liver damage, including certain vitamins, medications, nutritional supplements, and especially alcohol.

How Will Hepatitis B Affect My Pregnancy?

It is possible to transmit the virus to your baby during birth. It is recommended that all pregnant women be tested for HBV even if they’ve had the vaccine. Pregnant women at risk of getting hepatitis B should get the vaccine. Babies born to mothers with hepatitis B can get the vaccine immediately after birth to reduce the chances of getting infected.

Sources: CDCCDC-2Mayo ClinicACOG.org

Medically reviewed by Amy Cyr, MD
Reviewed on October 11, 2019
Hepatitis B Symptoms
  • No noticeable symptoms

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