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Basic Questions and Answers About Hepatitis B

October 23, 2015

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Symptoms

Does Acute Hepatitis B Cause Symptoms?

Sometimes. Although a majority of adults develop symptoms from acute Hepatitis B virus infection, many young children do not. Adults and children over the age of 5 years are more likely to have symptoms. Seventy percent of adults will develop symptoms from the infection.


What Are the Symptoms of Acute Hepatitis B?

Symptoms of acute Hepatitis B, if they appear, can include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine
  • Clay-colored bowel movements
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice (yellow color in the skin or the eyes)


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How Soon After Exposure to Hepatitis B Will Symptoms Appear?

On average, symptoms appear 90 days (or 3 months) after exposure, but they can appear any time between 6 weeks and 6 months after exposure.


How Long Do Acute Hepatitis B Symptoms Last?

Symptoms usually last a few weeks, but some people can be ill for as long as 6 months.


Can a Person Spread Hepatitis B Without Having Symptoms?

Yes. Many people with Hepatitis B have no symptoms, but these people can still spread the virus.


What Are the Symptoms of Chronic Hepatitis B?

Some people have ongoing symptoms similar to acute Hepatitis B, but most individuals with chronic Hepatitis B remain symptom free for as long as 20 or 30 years. About 15%-25% of people with chronic Hepatitis B develop serious liver conditions, such as cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) or liver cancer. Even as the liver becomes diseased, some people still do not have symptoms, although certain blood tests for liver function might begin to show some abnormalities.


How Will I Know if I Have Hepatitis B?

Talk to your health professional. Since many people with Hepatitis B do not have symptoms, doctors diagnose the disease by one or more blood tests. These tests look for the presence of antibodies or antigens and can help determine whether you:

  • have acute or chronic infection
  • have recovered from infection
  • are immune to Hepatitis B
  • could benefit from vaccination


How Serious Is Chronic Hepatitis B?

Chronic Hepatitis B is a serious disease that can result in long-term health problems, including liver damage, liver failure, liver cancer, or even death. Approximately 2,000-4,000 people die every year from Hepatitis B-related liver disease.


Tests

What Are Antigens and Antibodies?

An antigen is a substance on the surface of a virus that causes a person's immune system to recognize and respond to it. When the body is exposed to an antigen, the body views it as foreign material and takes steps to neutralize the antigen by producing antibodies. An antibody is a substance found in the blood that the body produces in response to a virus. Antibodies protect the body from disease by attaching to the virus and destroying it.


What Are the Common Blood Tests Available to Diagnose Hepatitis B?

There are many different blood tests available to diagnose Hepatitis B. They can be ordered as an individual test or as a series of tests. Ask your health professional to explain what he or she hopes to learn from the tests and when you will get the results. Below are some of the common tests and their meanings. But remember: only your doctor can interpret your individual test results.


Hepatitis B Surface Antigen (HBsAg) is a protein on the surface of the Hepatitis B virus. It can be detected in the blood during acute or chronic Hepatitis B virus infection. The body normally produces antibodies to HBsAg as part of the normal immune response to infection.

A positive test means:

  • A person has an acute or chronic Hepatitis B virus infection and can pass the virus to others

A negative test means:

  • A person does not have the Hepatitis B virus in his or her blood

Hepatitis B Surface Antibody (anti-HBs) is an antibody that is produced by the body in response to the Hepatitis B surface antigen.

A positive test means:

  • A person is protected or immune from getting the Hepatitis B virus for one of two reasons:
      • he or she was successfully vaccinated against Hepatitis B
      • OR
      • he or she recovered from an acute infection (and can't get Hepatitis B again)

Total Hepatitis B Core Antibody (anti-HBc) is an antibody that is produced by the body in response to a part of the Hepatitis B virus called the "core antigen." The meaning of this test often depends on the results of two other tests, anti-HBs and HBsAg.

A positive test means:

  • A person is either currently infected with the Hepatitis B virus or was infected in the past

IgM Antibody to Hepatitis B Core Antigen (IgM anti-HBc) is used to detect an acute infection.

A positive test means:

  • A person was infected with Hepatitis B virus within the last 6 months

Hepatitis B "e" Antigen (HBeAg) is a protein found in the blood when the Hepatitis B virus is present during an active Hepatitis B virus infection.

A positive test means:

  • A person has high levels of virus in his or her blood and can easily spread the virus to others

This test is also used to monitor the effectiveness of treatment for chronic Hepatitis B.

Hepatitis B e Antibody (HBeAb or anti-HBe) is an antibody that is produced by the body in response to the Hepatitis B "e" antigen.

A positive test means:

  • A person has chronic Hepatitis B virus infection but is at lower risk of liver problems due to low levels of Hepatitis B virus in his or her blood

Hepatitis B Viral DNA refers to a test to detect the presence of Hepatitis B virus DNA in a person's blood.

A positive test means:

  • The virus is multiplying in a person's body and he or she is highly contagious and can pass the virus to others
      • If a person has a chronic Hepatitis B virus infection, the presence of viral DNA means that a person is possibly at increased risk for liver damage

This test is also used to monitor the effectiveness of drug therapy for chronic Hepatitis B virus infection.

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This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
 
See Also
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