Hepatitis B

Last updated: October 12, 2022

What is hepatitis B?

It is an infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis B virus.

How do you get it?

  • Hepatitis B is spread by exposure to infected blood or by having sex with an infected person.
  • Mothers can pass the virus to their baby at the time of birth.

Who is at high risk of getting hepatitis B?

  • Drug users who share needles, “works” or straws
  • Anyone who has unprotected sex with someone who has hepatitis B
  • Babies born to mothers who have hepatitis B
  • People who have hemophilia or who are on kidney dialysis
  • Those who have contact with blood and body fluids in their work environment
  • Clients in institutions for the developmentally disabled

Symptoms to look for:

  • Tiredness
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Yellow skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • Fever
  • Urine that is dark in color

Many people infected with hepatitis B have no symptoms.

Often it takes two to six months from the time of exposure until a blood test will show the infection. Five to ten percent of adults and 90 percent of babies who get hepatitis B will become carriers of hepatitis B. Carriers of the virus will have the virus for the rest of their life. Also, carriers are at risk of developing liver cancer and other liver problems later in life.

How to keep from getting hepatitis B:

  • Do not share needles.
  • Use latex condoms (rubbers) every time you have sex.
  • Make sure any tools used for piercing and/or tattooing are single use or sterile instruments.
  • Do not use items that may have someone else’s blood on them, such as razors and toothbrushes.
  • Get vaccinated against hepatitis B.
  • Practice standard precautions if work involves exposure to blood.

There is a vaccine for hepatitis B:

  • There is no risk of developing hepatitis B from the vaccine.
  • In Maryland, vaccination is recommended for all infants, and should be a part of the infant’s routine vaccination schedule.
  • Babies born to mothers who have hepatitis B must get hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG) in addition to the first dose of hepatitis B vaccine at birth. It is very important that these babies complete their vaccine series.
  • Vaccination is strongly recommended for those considered at higher risk of getting hepatitis B.
  • People who have hepatitis C should be vaccinated against hepatitis B.

Most people recover from hepatitis B. Carriers may need treatment to avoid permanent liver damage. If you think you have the symptoms listed above, contact your doctor.

Additional information:

Hepatitis ABCs – PDF
Centers for Disease Control’s Hepatitis Page
Communicable Disease Fact Sheets (MDH) – PDF

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