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Facts About...

HEPATITIS B


What is it?

Hepatitis B is a virus. The virus can attack and damage the liver. Half of the people who become infected with the hepatitis B virus will develop symptoms within 60-90 days. However, 50-70% of infected people may not know that they have been infected with the virus unless a blood test is taken.

While most people will develop immunity months later, 5-10% of adults infected with hepatitis B will become life-long carriers and can be infectious to others. Some hepatitis B carriers may develop chronic (life-long) liver disease and are at risk for liver scarring (called cirrhosis) and liver cancer.

How is it spread?

People who have acute hepatitis B infection or who are hepatitis B carriers can spread the infection. In Canada, sexual contact without using a condom (especially oral, anal and vaginal sex) is the most common way of being infected. Hepatitis B can be spread:

Pregnant women who are carriers can spread hepatitis B to their babies around the time of birth and during breastfeeding. About 90% of infected infants become carriers of hepatitis B, most without ever showing symptoms of the disease. Pregnant women should have their blood checked for hepatitis B.

If positive, the baby will receive the hepatitis B vaccine.

What do I look for?

About 50-70% of adults with acute hepatitis B infection often have no symptoms or no signs of illness. However 30-50% of adults newly infected with hepatitis B become ill with acute hepatitis. Symptoms usually come on slowly with loss of appetite, stomach discomfort, feeling very tired, joint pain, fever and jaundice (where skin and whites of eyes turn yellow and urine darkens). When present, symptoms often start in 2-3 months but can start as late as 9 months after being infected. While most adults recover fully, death from acute hepatitis B can occur. Blood tests are required to confirm diagnosis of Hepatitis B.

How is it treated?

Treatment is available for some people. Anybody with chronic hepatitis B should be referred to a specialist for follow up.

If you are infected with hepatitis B:

How can I protect myself?

October 10, 2014