What is Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is an infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis B virus.  The virus is found in body fluids, including semen, saliva, blood and urine.  About one-third of people with Hepatitis B have a completely silent disease.  When symptoms are present they may be mild or severe.  Symptoms include fever, headaches, muscle aches, fatigue, loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhea.  Later stages may be marked by dark urine, abdominal pain and yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes.


Most people recover from hepatitis B within several weeks and develop antibodies.  However, some people, about 5 to 10 percent, never develop antibodies and may harbor the virus for many years or their entire life.  These people have chronic hepatitis B and may pass the virus to others.  Chronic carriers may have very few symptoms and may not be aware they have the virus.  Others have ongoing liver problems resulting in persistent hepatitis, liver failure or liver cancer.


Hepatitis is found more frequently among people who live in congregate housing situations, such as group homes or nursing homes.  People who work or live with people in these situations are at an increased risk of infection.  Anyone can get Hepatitis B.  It is spread through blood, urine, semen, vaginal fluids, tears, saliva and breast milk which penetrate the skin through scratches, cuts, bites or rashes.  Hepatitis B can also be spread through used needles, razors or exposure to other objects, which may contain small traces of human blood.  Hepatitis B can be transferred to inner surfaces of the mouth, eyes, vagina, rectum, through mouth to mouth kissing, sexual activity or biting.


Hepatitis B can be diagnosed by a simple blood test.  Blood screening tests can also determine those people who have achieved lifelong immunity due to a prior hepatitis B infection, as well as those who have never been exposed to the virus. There is no specific treatment other than attempting to relieve the symptoms.  Simply getting a series of vaccinations from your family care doctor can prevent Hepatitis B.


If you live, work or play with someone who has Hepatitis B be sure to wash your hands.  That is the single most important hygiene practice, which can greatly reduce the chance of getting Hepatitis B.


For more information on Hepatitis B contact your Doctor or The Hepatitis B Foundation at 215-489-4900, or visit them online at www.hepb.org.


Phone code: 1723

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