What is Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is a disease caused by infection with the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Chronic (lifelong) infection with HBV can lead to liver cirrhosis, liver failure, and liver cancer. About 60-80% of primary liver cancer worldwide is caused by chronic HBV infection. HBV is found in highest concentrations in blood (as high as 10 billion viruses per mL); concentrations 10 to 100 times lower are found in semen and vaginal fluid.
What are the key differences among hepatitis A, B, and C?
“Hepatitis” refers to any disease that results in inflammation of the liver, regardless of how that disease is contracted.
Hepatitis A is an acute infection that is transmitted through contaminated food and water. Infection can be prevented by receiving the hepatitis A vaccine.
Hepatitis B can be both an acute and chronic infection. It is transmitted through contaminated blood. Infection can be prevented by receiving the hepatitis B vaccine.
Hepatitis C can be both an acute and chronic infection that is transmitted through contaminated blood. No effective vaccine is available at this time.
Why is Hepatitis B often not diagnosed?
More than two-thirds of HBV cases exhibit no symptoms, so many people who become chronically infected don’t realize until it’s too late. If symptoms develop, they are often mistaken for those of influenza: fever, fatigue, joint or muscle pain, loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting. Jaundice (a yellow discoloration of eyes and skin), which is usually a sign of liver damage, may not occur.
What are some common myths and misconceptions about Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is NOT transmitted through food/water.
Hepatitis B is NOT transmitted through casual contact such as hugging or shaking hands.
Hepatitis B is NOT transmitted through kissing, sneezing or coughing.
Hepatitis B is NOT transmitted through breastfeeding.
What should I do?
Get tested: Ask your doctor for the hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) and surface antibody (anti-HBs) tests for both yourself and your family. These are not included in routine physical examination blood tests and must be requested. If you are pregnant, ask your doctor for the HBsAg test to see whether you are infected with hepatitis B.
Get vaccinated: If both your blood tests (HBsAg and anti-HBs) are negative, you have not been infected with hepatitis B. Get the 3-shot hepatitis B vaccination series to protect yourself for life from future infection. All newborns should receive the hepatitis B vaccine at birth.
Get involved: To learn about hepatitis B, join the Jade Ribbon Campaign. Spread the word about our campaign by telling your friends and family. Proudly wear your Jade Ribbon pin and bracelet in demonstration of your support.