Hepatitis is swelling or inflammation of the liver. It is a specific type of hepatitis that is caused by the Hepatitis B virus (HBV). Hepatitis B is a contagious disease which means it can be spread from person to person. It typically lasts a short time and goes away on its own. Some cases of HBV become chronic or long-lasting if the body is not able to fight off the virus. Chronic HBV can lead to serious health issues including scarring on the liver known as cirrhosis, and possible death.
HBV is spread through contact with a bodily fluid, such as semen or blood, from someone who is infected. Hepatitis B most commonly spreads from a woman to her baby as she is born. It can be spread through sexual contact, wound-to-wound contact, or by sharing items that could have blood on them such as a toothbrush, razor, syringe, or tattoo or body piercing needle.
Hepatitis B cannot be transmitted through casual contact such as shaking hands or hugging. It also cannot be spread by sharing food or utensils, or by sneezing or coughing.
Hepatitis B attacks the liver by causing inflammation and swelling. The liver is an important organ in the abdomen that helps break down waste products in the blood. If the liver is inflamed, it cannot function correctly and waste products can build up in the blood. Cirrhosis of the liver is scarring that prevents the liver tissue from functioning. Cirrhosis can lead to liver failure, which can be fatal.
Symptoms of HBV include:
• Poor appetite
• Nausea or vomiting
• Weakness and tiredness
• Pain in the abdomen, especially around the liver
• Pain in joints
• Dark urine
• Yellow color in the skin or the eyes (jaundice)
Hepatitis B symptoms can be severe, but they can also be so mild that you may not know you have it. Symptoms can also mimic the stomach flu. Most people recover from HBV in a few days or weeks without treatment. HBV that lasts six months or longer becomes a chronic, life-long condition.
People who have not had Hepatitis B can be vaccinated to prevent the disease. All newborn babies in the United States typically receive the vaccine during their first year. People who are at high risk including health care workers, drug users, and people who travel to parts of the world where HBV is more common should get the vaccine to protect themselves.
Asian and Pacific Islander Americans may be at higher risk for HBV if their mothers were born in parts of the world where HBV is more common, including most Asian and Pacific Island nations where the HBV vaccine is not commonly used or was recently introduced.
If you believe you may have been exposed to Hepatitis B, talk to your doctor right away. Immediate treatment may help prevent the disease. A pregnant woman may want to be vaccinated against HBV to protect her baby during birth. A woman who has HBV and who is pregnant should make sure her doctor knows to take special precautions during delivery and to immediately vaccinate the baby after birth to minimize the risk of infection.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heptatitis B Information for the Public. Web. August 31, 2011.
National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). Hepatitis B: What Asian and Pacific Islander Americans Need to Know. Web. August 31, 2011.
National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). What I need to know about Hepatitis B. Web. August 31, 2011.
Family Doctor.org. Hepatitis B. Web. August 31, 2011.
Reviewed September 1, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Malu Banuelos