How It Is Spread
Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is spread through blood or body fluids, such as semen and vaginal secretions. It can be passed from an infected person to another person via contaminated intravenous (IV) needles, through unsterilized piercing or tattoo tools, or via shared razors or toothbrushes. HBV can be passed from an infected mother to her child during childbirth. At-risk populations include men who have sex with men, anyone having unprotected sex with an infected person and IV drug users who share needles.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1.25 million people have chronic HBV infection. The incubation period is six weeks to six months. Symptoms, which occur in about half of cases, include fatigue, fever, headache and decreased appetite. There may be nausea and vomiting, muscle aches and joint pain, jaundice and a skin rash. Chronic HBV infection is age related. About 90% of infected infants who are not treated within the first week of life end up with chronic HBV infection. Less than 5% of adults have chronic HBV infection, according to the CDC. If untreated, chronic infection can cause liver damage, and premature death from cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Testing and Treatment
HBV can be confirmed through a blood test. If liver damage is suspected, a liver biopsy may be performed.
Prevention and Vaccination
Steps to help prevent the spread of HBV include not sharing IV needles, razors or toothbrushes; and wearing latex gloves when handling blood products. The CDC recommends screening pregnant women and vaccinating those at high risk. The HBV vaccine is given in three doses. The CDC recommends that babies receive the first dose of the series during the first week after birth. The second dose should be given one month later; the last should be given six months later.
NHF’s Medical and Scientific Advisory Council (MASAC) recommends that all people with bleeding disorders be vaccinated against HBV, unless they have proof of immunity. Read the MASAC recommendation on hepatitis A and B vaccinations.