You Can Have It And Not Know It
What is hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis B virus . HBV is far more infectious than HIV and can be prevented by a vaccine. People who have not been vaccinated may be at risk of getting infected.
About 95 percent of adults will recover within 6 months of becoming infected and as a result will develop lifelong protection against it. The remaining 5 percent are unable to clear the virus and will become chronically infected. Chronic hepatitis B infection is treatable.
It is estimated that less than 1 percent of Canada’s population is infected with either acute or chronic HBV. People who are infected before the age of 7 are at a higher risk of developing chronic infection. In 2011, the overall reported rate of acute hepatitis B infection in Canada was 0.6 reported cases per 100,000 people living in Canada.
Why is hepatitis B a health concern?
Many people infected with HBV do not know they have the virus because symptoms can take two to six months to appear and only about 50 percent of people develop symptoms. During this time, they can spread the infection to others. You may not know you have this infection until damage has already been done to your liver. Potential complications from chronic HBV infection include cirrhosis of the liver, liver failure, liver cancer and premature death.
Why do I need my liver?
How is hepatitis B spread?
HBV is spread through contact with infected blood and body fluids including semen and vaginal fluid.
What Are The Types Of Hepatitis B
There are two types of hepatitis B infection: acute and chronic.
An acute infection happens at the beginning, when you first get infected with hepatitis B. Many people are able to clear it from their bodies and recover. In fact, this is true of about 4 in 5 adults who are infected.
If you are not able to clear the infection within six months or longer, you have chronic hepatitis B. It is chronic hepatitis B that leads to inflammation and the serious, and possibly fatal, illnesses of cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer. Treatment can slow disease progress, reduce the chance of liver cancer and increase your chances of surviving.
How Does Hepatitis Affect The Body
Typically, symptoms for all types of hepatitis occur once the infection begins causing damage to the liver. In acute cases, symptoms develop quickly and in chronic instances, signs may take up to 6 months to begin showing concern.
General signs and symptoms for acute and chronic hepatitis
All hepatitis types will have the following signs and symptoms in common:
- Flu-like symptoms
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss
- Dark urine
Other signs and symptoms for hepatitis A
- Muscle aches
- Clay-coloured stools
Other signs and symptoms for hepatitis B and D
- Abdominal discomfort
- Tan-coloured stools
All symptom for hepatitis B must be assessed and treated by a medical professional as quickly as possible to prevent an infection developing into HDV and further health complications. If you are exposed to the virus and can seek treatment within the first 24 hours following exposure, an infection can be prevented with prompt medical attention.
A HDV infection may not always display obvious symptoms but when they do, they are very similar to those of hepatitis B. Symptoms of HDV can often make those of HBV worse, which can make diagnosis a little trickier.
Other signs and symptoms for hepatitis C
- Abdominal discomfort
- Itching skin
If there are already signs of damage to your liver, you will display the following symptoms:
Other signs and symptoms for hepatitis E
- Liver enlargement
- Nausea and vomiting
Non-viral hepatitis signs and symptoms
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Acute Hepatitis B Symptoms
There are three phases of acute hepatitis B infection, and symptoms may differ depending on the stage. Early in the disease, called the prodromal phase, symptoms may include:
- Dark urine and light stool color
During the icteric phase:
- Jaundice develops
- Anorexia, nausea and vomiting may worsen
- Irritated skin lesions may develop
- Other symptoms may subside
Who Should Get Immunised Against Hepatitis B
Anyone who wants to protect themselves against hepatitis B can talk to their doctor about getting immunised.
Hepatitis B immunisation is recommended for:
People under 20 years old, refugees and other humanitarian entrants of any age, can get hepatitis B vaccines for free under the NIP. This is if they did not receive the vaccines in childhood. This is called catch-up vaccination.
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Treatment Options For Hepatitis B
Acute hepatitis B usually doesnt require treatment. Most people will overcome an acute infection on their own. However, rest and hydration will help you recover.
Antiviral medications are used to treat chronic hepatitis B. These help you fight the virus. They may also reduce the risk of future liver complications.
You may need a liver transplant if hepatitis B has severely damaged your liver. A liver transplant means a surgeon will remove your liver and replace it with a donor liver. Most donor livers come from deceased donors.
What Are The Symptoms Of Chronic Hepatitis B
About 1 in 20 people who get hepatitis B as adults become carriers, which means they have a chronic hepatitis B infection. Carriers are more likely to pass hepatitis B to other people. Most carriers are contagious meaning they can spread hepatitis B for the rest of their lives.
Hepatitis B infections that last a long time may lead to serious liver diseases like cirrhosis and liver cancer. About 1 in 5 people with chronic hepatitis B die from it. There are medicines that can help treat chronic hepatitis B infections.
Most babies who get hepatitis B develop chronic infection, unless they get treated right away. But treatments almost always work if your baby gets them quickly. Thats why its important for pregnant people to get tested for hepatitis B.
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What Causes Hepatitis B
The hepatitis B virus causes hepatitis B. The hepatitis B virus spreads through contact with an infected persons blood, semen, or other body fluids. Contact can occur by
- being born to a mother with hepatitis B
- having unprotected sex with an infected person
- sharing drug needles or other drug materials with an infected person
- getting an accidental stick with a needle that was used on an infected person
- being tattooed or pierced with tools that were used on an infected person and werent properly sterilized, or cleaned in a way that destroys all viruses and other microbes
- having contact with the blood or open sores of an infected person
- using an infected persons razor, toothbrush, or nail clippers
You cant get hepatitis B from
- being coughed on or sneezed on by an infected person
- drinking unclean water or untreated water that has not been boiled
- eating food that is unclean or has not been properly cooked
- hugging an infected person
- shaking hands or holding hands with an infected person
- sharing spoons, forks, and other eating utensils
- sitting next to an infected person
Mothers who have hepatitis B can safely breastfeed their babies. If a baby receives hepatitis B immune globulin and starts receiving the hepatitis B vaccine to prevent hepatitis B infection shortly after birth, hepatitis B is unlikely to spread from mother to child through breastfeeding.15
Outlook For Hepatitis B
The vast majority of people infected with hepatitis B in adulthood are able to fight off the virus and fully recover within 1 to 3 months.
Most will then be immune to the infection for life.
Babies and children with hepatitis B are more likely to develop a chronic infection.
Chronic hepatitis B affects around:
- 90% of babies with hepatitis B
- 20% of older children with hepatitis B
- 5% of adults with hepatitis B
Although treatment can help, there’s a risk that people with chronic hepatitis B could eventually develop life-threatening problems, such as scarring of the liver or liver cancer.
Page last reviewed: 30 January 2019 Next review due: 30 January 2022
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How Can I Prevent Spreading Hepatitis B To Others
If you have hepatitis B, follow the steps above to avoid spreading the infection. Your sex partners should get a hepatitis B test and, if they arent infected, get the hepatitis B vaccine. You can protect others from getting infected by telling your doctor, dentist, and other health care professionals that you have hepatitis B. Dont donate blood or blood products, semen, organs, or tissue.
What Is Involved In A Liver Transplant
A liver transplant is considered necessary when the liver is damaged and cannot function or in some cases of liver cancer. Your liver is very important. It is responsible for many functions related to making sure that your body stays healthy and is able to digest foods.
You may be eligible for a transplant if you have chronic hepatitis B infection or some of the diseases that may result from it, including liver cancer and cirrhosis. You will have to complete testing and be evaluated before being approved for a transplant. It is likely that you will be placed on a waiting list while an appropriate organ is found.
Donated livers come from two types of donors: living and deceased. Because the liver can regenerate, it is possible to use part of a liver for transplant. The remaining sections in both the donor and the receiver will grow into livers of adequate size.
People who get liver transplants must take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of their lives. These drugs make you more susceptible to infection. However, liver transplants have become more successful over time and continue to improve.
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What Should You Know About Pregnancy And Hepatitis B
A pregnant woman who has hepatitis B can pass the infection to her baby at delivery. This is true for both vaginal and cesarean deliveries.
You should ask your healthcare provider to test you for hepatitis B when you find out you are pregnant. However, while it is important for you and your healthcare provider to know if you do have hepatitis B, the condition should not affect the way that your pregnancy progresses.
If you do test positive, your provider may suggest that you contact another healthcare provider, a liver doctor, who is skilled in managing people with hepatitis B infections. You may have a high viral load and may need treatment during the last 3 months of your pregnancy. A viral load is the term for how much of the infection you have inside of you.
You can prevent your infant from getting hepatitis B infection by making sure that your baby gets the hepatitis B vaccine in the hours after they are born along with the hepatitis B immunoglobulin. These two shots are given in two different locations on the baby. They are the first shots needed.
Depending on the type of vaccine used, two or three more doses must be given, usually when the baby is 1 month old and then 6 months old, with the last by the time the baby is 1 year old. It is critical that all newborns get the hepatitis B vaccination, but even more important if you have hepatitis B yourself.
Symptoms Of Hepatitis B
Many people with hepatitis B will not experience any symptoms and may fight off the virus without realising they had it.
If symptoms do develop, they tend to happen 2 or 3 months after exposure to the hepatitis B virus.
Symptoms of hepatitis B include:
- flu-like symptoms, including tiredness, a fever, and general aches and pains
- loss of appetite
- tummy pain
- yellowing of the skin and eyes
These symptoms will usually pass within 1 to 3 months , although occasionally the infection can last for 6 months or more .
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Treatments For Hepatitis B
Treatment for hepatitis B depends on how long you have been infected for.
If you have been exposed to the virus in the past few days, emergency treatment can help stop you becoming infected.
If you have only had the infection for a few weeks or months , you may only need treatment to relieve your symptoms while your body fights off the infection.
If you have had the infection for more than 6 months , you may be offered treatment with medicines that can keep the virus under control and reduce the risk of liver damage.
Chronic hepatitis B often requires long-term or lifelong treatment and regular monitoring to check for any further liver problems.
How Do You Get Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B is really contagious. Its transmitted through contact with semen , vaginal fluids, and blood. You can get it from:
having vaginal, anal, or oral sex
sharing toothbrushes and razors
sharing needles for shooting drugs, piercings, tattoos, etc.
getting stuck with a needle that has the Hep B virus on it.
Hepatitis B can also be passed to babies during birth if their mother has it.
Hepatitis B isnt spread through saliva , so you CANT get hepatitis B from sharing food or drinks or using the same fork or spoon. Hepatitis B is also not spread through kissing, hugging, holding hands, coughing, sneezing, or breastfeeding.
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When To Delay Or Avoid Hepb Immunization
Doctors delay giving the vaccine to babies who weigh less than 4 pounds, 7 ounces at birth whose mothers do not have the virus in their blood. The baby will get the first dose at 1 month of age or when the baby is discharged from the hospital.
The vaccine is not recommended if your child:
- is currently sick, although simple colds or other minor illnesses should not prevent immunization
- had a serious allergic reaction after an earlier dose of the vaccine or is allergic to baker’s yeast
Hepatitis B Surface Antigen Test
A hepatitis B surface antigen test shows if youre contagious. A positive result means you have hepatitis B and can spread the virus. A negative result means you dont currently have hepatitis B. This test doesnt distinguish between chronic and acute infection. This test is used together with other hepatitis B tests to determine the .
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What Are The Risk Factors For Getting Hepatitis B
Due to the way that hepatitis B spreads, people most at risk for getting infected include:
- Children whose mothers have been infected with hepatitis B.
- Children who have been adopted from countries with high rates of hepatitis B infection.
- People who have unprotected sex and/or have been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection.
- People who live with or work in an institutional setting, such as prisons or group homes.
- Healthcare providers and first responders.
- People who share needles or syringes.
- People who live in close quarters with a person with chronic hepatitis B infection.
- People who are on dialysis.
Hepatitis B Vs Hepatitis C
Hepatitis has many different types. HBV and the hepatitis C virus have both acute and chronic forms.
The main difference between HBV and HCV is how they spread from person to person. Although HCV is transmissible via sexual activity, this is rare. HCV usually spreads when blood that carries the virus comes into contact with blood that does not.
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Chronic Hepatitis B Infection
If you develop chronic hepatitis B, youll be given treatment to reduce the risk of permanent liver damage and liver cancer. Treatment does not cure chronic hepatitis B and most people who start treatment need to continue for life.
Without treatment, chronic hepatitis B can cause scarring of the liver , which can cause the liver to stop working properly.
A small number of people with cirrhosis develop liver cancer, and these complications can lead to death. Other than a liver transplant, there is no cure for cirrhosis. However, treatments can help relieve some of the symptoms.
Recommended Adult Dosing Volume Of Monovalent Hepatitis B Vaccine
- Age 19 years and younger: Use 0.5 mL per dose .
- Age 20 years and older: 1.0 mL per dose .
For a one-page sheet reviewing the hepatitis B dosing schedule for children and adults, consult IACs Hepatitis A and B Vaccines: Be Sure Your Patients Get the Correct Dose. For complete dosing information, consult the ACIP hepatitis B vaccine recommendations for adults.
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Chronic Hepatitis B Complications
Chronic hepatitis B can lead to
- cirrhosis, a condition in which scar tissue replaces healthy liver tissue and prevents your liver from working normally. Scar tissue also partly blocks the flow of blood through the liver. As cirrhosis gets worse, the liver begins to fail.
- liver failure, in which your liver is badly damaged and stops working. Liver failure is also called end-stage liver disease. People with liver failure may require a liver transplant.
- liver cancer. Your doctor may suggest blood tests and an ultrasound or another type of imaging test to check for liver cancer. Finding cancer at an early stage improves the chance of curing the cancer.
Why It Is Used
Hepatitis B virus causes a liver infection that can lead to serious complications, including liver cancer. It is common in people throughout the world, particularly in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
The Canadian National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommends hepatitis B immunization for all children. Pregnant women and other adults who do not have immunity and who have a high chance of exposure should be vaccinated.
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