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The Hepatitis B virus (HBV) may be transmitted to others through blood and body fluid contact. HBV is spread when blood or body fluids from an infected person enters the body of a person who is not infected, through breaks in the skin or through the moist linings of the eyes, nose, mouth, and genitalia. Transmission of HBV to someone else often occurs by having unprotected sex, sharing needles, syringes and other injection drug use (IDU) equipment, or other paraphernalia that can become contaminated with infected blood. Transmission of HBV may also occur through occupational needle sticks or sharps exposures, from an infected mother to her baby during birth, or through household exposures to the blood or body fluids of an infected person.
Hepatitis B is not spread through food or water, sharing eating utensils, breastfeeding, hugging, kissing, coughing, sneezing or by casual contact. HBV is unlikely to be spread through saliva, but is possible through abrasions or mouth sores that may occur a result of rigorous kissing, bites, or trauma from dental appliances or braces when blood exchange may occur. HBV is not spread by eating food prepared by someone who is infected. Transmission through tears, sweat, urine, stool, or droplet nuclei are not likely either. HBV is a hardy organism and can survive on environmental surfaces for seven days in blood or body fluid visible or invisible as in microscopic particles of dried blood present on shared household items such as nail clippers, tooth brushes, metal nail files, pierced body jewelry and other sharp items. A person infected with HBV may transmit the infection to others who have not previously completed the hepatitis B vaccination series or who developed immunity from an acute HBV infection.
After HBV enters the body the blood stream, it invades and damages liver cells. Inflammation and scarring of the liver occurs and interferes with the liver’s ability to function properly. Symptoms may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal discomfort
- Dark urine
- Clay-colored bowel movements
- Joint pain
- Yellow skin or yellowing of the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
Many people have no noticable symptoms with an HBV infection and feel fine even when serious liver damage is occurring. Approximately half of infected adults will exhibit any symptoms. Children are even less likely than adults to develop symptoms even when liver damage continues. Only a blood test can tell whether or not you have been infected. It is important to talk with your doctor about testing. It is extremely important if you are pregnant or thinking about having a baby. One out of 20 people in the United States will get infected with HBV some time during their lives. The risk is higher if your parents were born in Southeast Asia, Africa, the Amazon Basin in South America, the Pacific Islands, or the Middle East, because hepatitis B infection is prevalent in these areas.
Hepatitis B vaccine is available for the prevention of HBV infection. The hepatitis vaccination used most often consists of three intramuscular injections. For optimal development of protective antibodies, the second dose should be administered 1 month after the first dose and the third dose should be administered 6 months after the first dose and at least 8 weeks from the second dose. For more hepatitis B vaccine information and schedules, please refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Immunization web sites at:
Vaccination schedules for adults http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/recs/schedules/adult-schedule.htm
Vaccination schedules for children http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/recs/schedules/child-schedule.htm
There are no medications available for recently acquired (acute) HBV infection. There are, however, antiviral drugs available for the treatment of certain people who do not recover from the acute infection and go on to develop chronic HBV infection. Antiviral medications are not a cure; they are designed to fight the virus and to decrease liver complications.