Hepatitis B (Serum Hepatitis)
What is hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is caused by a highly contagious virus that infects the liver. In the past, hepatitis B was called serum hepatitis.
Many people, especially children, have mild or no symptoms following infection with the virus. However, long-term infection can occur and may lead to liver disease, cancer or death.
Who gets hepatitis B?
Anyone can get hepatitis B. However, certain groups have a greater chance of becoming infected. These include:
- infants born to infected mothers (See the Perinatal Hepatitis B Prevention Program for more information.)
- IV drug users
- sexual partners of infected people
- people with many heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual partners
- certain populations with high rates of hepatitis B infection
- heath care workers
- public safety workers
- anyone who has frequent contact with blood
- clients and staff of institutions for the mentally retarded
- Housemates of chronically infected people are at higher risk than the general population, but lower risk than those listed above.
How is the virus spread?
The hepatitis B virus is usually spread:
- through sexual activity
- contaminated blood and blood products
- close household contact
- from infected mothers to infants at birth (See the Perinatal Hepatitis B Prevention Program for more information.)
What are the symptoms?
- loss of appetite
- stomach pain
- occasional skin rashes
- joint pains
- jaundice (yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes)
How soon do the symptoms appear?
Symptoms develop slowly and may take as long as 45-180 days (average is 60-90 days) to appear after exposure to an infected person.
How long can an infected person spread the virus?
- An infected person can spread the virus for several weeks before symptoms appear and as long as the person is ill.
- People who develop lifelong infection (“carriers”) may spread the virus for their entire lives.
- Long-term infection may result in liver disease or cancer.
How is hepatitis B diagnosed?
A blood test is used to detect infection with the hepatitis B virus.
Can a person get hepatitis B again?
If a person develops hepatitis B antibodies, one infection with the hepatitis B virus protects against getting it again.
However, there are different types of viral hepatitis, and infection with hepatitis B will not protect against other types of hepatitis.
What is the treatment for hepatitis B?
There is no specific treatment for acute hepatitis B.
What can be done if a person is exposed to someone infected with hepatitis B?
- When indicated, hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG) should be given within two weeks after exposure.
- Hepatitis B vaccine is also recommended for people at high risk of additional exposure.
- For infants born to infected mothers, the combination of HBIG and vaccine is effective at preventing infection. (See the Perinatal Hepatitis B Prevention Program for more information.)
How can the spread of hepatitis B be stopped?
- Vaccination is highly protective against the hepatitis B virus.
- Testing all pregnant women for HbsAg is recommended to prevent spread from infected mothers to their infants. (See the Perinatal Hepatitis B Prevention Program for more information.)
- Donated blood should be tested for and individuals who test positive should be rejected as donors.
- Syringes, acupuncture and tattooing needles should never be shared or reused.
- Personal items such as toothbrushes and razors that could have blood on them should not be shared.
- Latex condoms should be used regularly if there is more than one partner.
Is there a vaccine to prevent hepatitis B?
A vaccine is available and is recommended for all infants at birth as well as for people at high risk of being infected with hepatitis B.
The vaccine is safe for most people and the most common complaint is soreness at the injection site.
People who receive the vaccine as a precautionary measure may continue to donate blood.
Where can I get more information?
Contact your doctor or the Southern Nevada Health District, Office of Epidemiology at (702) 759-1300.
Updated on: October 12, 2018