Hepatitis B

Vaccine preventable disease: Hepatitis B

What it is: Hepatitis B is a serious disease that affects the liver.  It is caused by the Hepatitis B virus.

How it spreads:  Hepatitis B virus is spread through contact with the blood or other body fluids of an infected person.  A person can be infected by:

  • Contact with a mother’s blood and body fluids at the time of birth
  • Contact with blood and body fluids through breaks in the skin such as bites, cuts or sores
  • Contact with objects that could have blood or body fluids on them such as toothbrushes or razors
  • Having unprotected sex with an infected person
  • Sharing needles when injecting drugs
  • Being stuck with a used needle on the job

What it causes:  Hepatitis B can cause:
Acute (short-term) illness.  This can lead to:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Tiredness
  • Jaundice (yellow skin and eyes)
  • Pains in muscles, joints , and stomach

Acute illness is more common in adults.  Children who become infected usually do not have acute illness.

Chronic (long term) infection.  Some people can go on to develop chronic HBV infection.  This can be very serious and often leads to:

  • Liver damage (cirrhosis)
  • Liver cancer
  • Death

Chronic infection is more common among infants and children than among adults.  People who are infected can spread HBV to others, even if they don’t appear sick.
In 2005, about 51,000 people became infected with Hepatitis B.
About 1.25 million people in the United States have chronic HBV infection.
Each year about 3,000 to 5,000 people die from cirrhosis or liver cancer caused by HBV.

What to do:   Routine Hepatitis B vaccination of U.S. children began in 1991.   Since then the reported incidence of acute hepatitis B among children and adolescents has dropped by more than 95% – and by 75% in all age groups.
Hepatitis B vaccine is given as a series of 3 or 4 shots.  This vaccine series gives long-term protection from HBV infection, possibly lifelong.

Children and Adolescents:

All children should get their first dose Hepatitis B vaccine at birth and should have completed the series by 6-18 months of age.

Children and adolescents through 18 years of age who did not get the vaccine when they were younger should be vaccinated.

Often, college students living in on-campus housing must disclose their hepatitis B and meningococcal vaccination status.

All unvaccinated adults at risk for HBV infection should be vaccinated.  This includes:

  • Sex partners of people infected with HBV
  • Men who have sex with men
  • People who inject street drugs
  • People who have more than one sex partner
  • People with chronic liver or kidney disease
  • People who have jobs that expose them to human blood
  • Household contacts of people infected with HBV
  • Residents and staff in institutions for the developmentally disabled
  • Kidney dialysis patients
  • People who travel to countries where Hepatitis B is common
  • People with HIV infection

Anyone else who wants to be protected from HBV infection may be vaccinated.