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Hepatitis B is a serious public health problem that affects people of all ages in the United States and around the world. Each year, more than 240,000 persons get hepatitis B in the United States. The disease is caused by a highly infectious virus that attacks the liver. Hepatitis B virus infection can lead to severe illness, liver damage, and in some cases, death.
The best way to be protected from hepatitis B is to be vaccinated with hepatitis B vaccine, which has been proven safe and effective. Read this pamphlet to learn what hepatitis B is, what behaviors put you at risk, and how you can protect yourself against hepatitis B.
About 5% of persons in the United States will get hepatitis B sometime during their life. If you engage in certain behaviors, your risk for hepatitis B may be much higher.
- Have a job that exposes you to human blood.
- Live in the same house with someone who has lifelong hepatitis B virus infection.
- Inject drugs.
- Have sex with a person infected with hepatitis B virus.
- Have sex with more than one partner.
- Are a child whose parents were born in Southeast Asia, Africa, the Amazon Basin in South America, the Pacific Islands, or the Middle East.
- Are a patient or work in an institution for the developmentally disabled.
- Have hemophilia.
- Travel internationally to areas with a high prevalence of hepatitis B.
Hepatitis B virus is found in the blood and body fluids of persons with hepatitis B. Contact with even small amounts of infected blood can cause infection. You can get hepatitis B by direct contact with the blood or body fluids of an infected person, for example, by sharing needles or by having sex with an infected person. A baby can get hepatitis B from an infected mother during childbirth.
Unlike hepatitis A, another form of hepatitis, hepatitis B is not spread through food or water. If you had hepatitis A, it is still possible to get hepatitis B. If you had hepatitis C, another form of hepatitis that can be spread by contact with blood, you can still get hepatitis B.
Some persons infected with hepatitis B virus never fully recover and carry the virus for the rest of their lives. These persons are known as carriers, and they can infect other household and sexual contacts throughout their lives. Among adults who have hepatitis B, 5% to 10% develop a lifelong infection; among children, the risk for lifelong infection is much higher. In the United States today, an estimated one million persons have life long hepatitis B virus infections.
If you have hepatitis B, you may have:
- Yellowing of the skin or eyes.
- Loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fever.
- Extreme tiredness, stomach or joint pain.
- Feel very ill and be unable to work for weeks or even months.
- Have no symptoms and infect others without knowing it.
Hepatitis B may cause:
- Serious liver problems, such as cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and liver cancer.
- Lifelong hepatitis B virus infection.
- Liver failure and death.
Each year, approximately 5,000 persons in the United States die of cirrhosis of the liver related to hepatitis B, and another 1,500 die of liver cancer related to hepatitis B. Hepatitis B is the most common cause of liver cancer worldwide. Because these serious problems may not develop until many years after a person becomes infected with hepatitis B virus, those who have a lifelong infection should be evaluated periodically by a medical care provider.
Pregnant women who are infected with hepatitis B virus frequently transmit the disease to their babies. Many of these babies develop lifelong infections, cirrhosis of the liver, and liver cancer. All pregnant women should be tested early in pregnancy to determine if they are infected with hepatitis B virus. If the blood test is positive, the baby should be vaccinated at birth and in the first year of life.
No cure is available for hepatitis B, so prevention is crucial. Vaccines can provide protection in 90% to 95% of healthy persons. The vaccine can be given safely to infants, children, and adults in three doses over a period of 6 months. For information about hepatitis B vaccine, visit your public health clinic or see your physician or public health nurse.
Preventing hepatitis B is important because of the high risk of lifelong infection leading to serious liver problems. The following persons should be vaccinated against hepatitis B:
- All babies, beginning at birth.
- Adolescents who have sex or inject drugs.
- Persons who engage in any of the high-risk behaviors listed in this pamphlet.
- Persons whose jobs expose them to human blood.
If you are at risk, every day you delay increases your chances of getting a highly contagious liver disease. The problems caused by hepatitis B -- liver cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, and the danger of infecting loved ones -- are too great. Give your future a shot in the arm. Get vaccinated!
Call the CDC Hepatitis Hotline (404) 332-4555 or write Hepatitis Branch, Division of Viral and Rickettsial Diseases, National Center for Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia 30333.
To request a copy of this document or for questions concerning this document, please contact the person or office listed below. If requesting a document, please specify the complete name of the document as well as the address to which you would like it mailed. Note that if a name is listed with the address below, you may wish to contact this person via CDC WONDER/PC e-mail.
DIVISION OF VIRAL & RICKETTSIAL DISEASES
CDC, (NCID) John O'Connor
1600 Clifton Rd. NE MS(A-30)
Atlanta, GA 30333