Hepatitis B: Symptoms and Causes

Hepatitis B is a serious liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). For some people, this condition is an acute, or short-term, illness but for others, it can become a long-term, chronic infection. People with chronic hepatitis B are at high risk of death from cirrhosis and liver cancer.

There is a good chance of full recovery and developing lifelong immunity for adults who become infected with the condition. Meanwhile, infants and young children who acquire HBV are much more likely to develop a chronic hepatitis B infection. A vaccine is available to protect against the condition, but there’s no cure if you have it. If you’re infected, taking certain precautions can help prevent passing on the virus to others?

Symptoms

Mild fever can be a sign of hepatitis B
Mild fever can be a sign of hepatitis B

After you first become infected with the HBV:

  • You may not experience any symptoms
  • You may feel like you have a flu for a period of days or weeks
  • You may become very ill very quickly (called fulminant hepatitis)

Signs and symptoms of the condition may not appear for up to 6 months after the time of infection. Early symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine
  • Low fever
  • Muscle and joint aches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice). It usually appears only after other symptoms have started to go away.

When to see a doctor

If you are concerned that you might have been exposed to the HBV, call your doctor immediately. A preventive treatment within 24 hours of exposure to the virus may lower your risk of infection.

If you think you have signs or symptoms of hepatitis B, make an appointment with your doctor.

Causes

Hepatitis B infection is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). The virus is spread through contact with the blood, semen or other body fluids of an infected person.

Hepatitis B is a concern for health-care workers

Common ways HBV is transmitted include:

  • Sexual contact. You are subject to the condition if you have unprotected sex with an infected partner whose blood, saliva, semen or vaginal secretions enter your body.
  • Sharing of needles. HBV can easily pass through needles and syringes contaminated with infected blood. Sharing intravenous (IV) drug paraphernalia heightens your risk of the condition.
  • Accidental needle sticks. Hepatitis B is a concern for health-care workers and anyone else who are repeatedly exposed to blood or blood products.
  • Perinatal Transmission. Pregnant women infected with HBV can pass the virus to their babies at birth. However, the newborn can get vaccinated to avoid being infected in almost all cases. Contact your doctor to be tested for hepatitis B if you are pregnant or want to become a mother.
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