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Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a contagious, often chronic (long-lasting) liver disease. It is caused by the hepatitis B virus and spread through infected blood, semen and vaginal fluid.

These are the most common ways people get hepatitis B:

  • Having sex with someone who is infected
  • Coming into contact with the blood of an infected person
  • Sharing needles, syringes, razors or toothbrushes with an infected person
  • Giving birth after becoming infected (the virus can be passed from mother to baby in the womb)

Hepatitis B is not related to hepatitis C, hepatitis A or hepatitis E. It is sometimes, however, connected to hepatitis D. The hepatitis D virus will stay in the body only if the hepatitis B virus is also present.

  • People can be infected with hepatitis B and D at the same time
  • People with chronic hepatitis B can later become infected with hepatitis D 

Hepatitis B: what you should know

  • You won’t get hepatitis B from the following:
    • Shaking hands
    • Hugging
    • Sharing utensils or drinking glasses with an infected person
    • Being coughed or sneezed on by an infected person
    • Breastfeeding
  • The best way to safeguard against hepatitis B is to get vaccinated. The hepatitis B vaccine is often given to infants shortly after birth but is also safe for adults.

How can I get help for hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B symptoms aren’t always obvious and can take a lot of time to appear:

  • Up to three months for symptoms of acute (short-term) hepatitis B
  • Two or three decades for chronic hepatitis B

That’s why it’s important to be tested if you know — or think — you have been exposed to hepatitis B. Long-lasting hepatitis B infection can eventually lead to serious liver damage, liver cancer or liver failure, all of which can cause death.

You should also see your doctor and be tested for hepatitis B if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Jaundice
  • Joint pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea or vomiting

Children are less likely than adults to have symptoms.

Many of these symptoms are also symptoms of other types of hepatitis. It’s crucial to get the right diagnosis so you can get the right treatment.

Care for hepatitis B at Rush

If you have chronic hepatitis B, you need to see a hepatologist, a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating liver disease. Your treatment at Rush may involve the following:

  • For acute hepatitis B – There are no medications for treating acute hepatitis B. In most cases, though, your body is able to get rid of the infection on its own.
  • For chronic hepatitis B with no liver damage – If your liver is healthy, you won’t need treatment. Your hepatologist will monitor you in case your liver becomes damaged down the road.
  • For liver damage – If your liver shows signs of damage, you will be treated with one of several oral medications. These drugs aren’t cures, but they can control the disease and help prevent cirrhosis (severe liver disease).
  • For liver failure due to severe liver damage – If your liver isn’t working properly, your hepatologist may recommend a liver transplant and refer you to a liver transplant surgeon at Rush.

Why choose Rush for hepatitis B care

  • Hepatologists at Rush are engaged in cutting-edge clinical research aimed at improving treatment for hepatitis B. This means patients at Rush have early access to the latest hepatitis B medications through clinical trials.
  • If you need a liver transplant, your surgeon and hepatologist will work together to address every aspect of your care — before, during and after transplant.
  • Since its inception in 1985, Rush’s liver transplant program has been one of the most active programs of its kind in the nation.

Departments and programs that treat this condition