Hepatitis B is a viral disease caused by the Hepatitis B virus (HBV) that attacks the liver. It is a serious illness that can cause lifelong infection, cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver cancer, liver failure and death.
Transmission occurs when blood or body fluids from an infected person enters the body of a person who is not immune. This can occur by having sex with an infected person without using a condom, by sharing needles when injecting illegal drugs, through needle sticks on the job or from an infected mother to her baby during birth. Other potential ways of coming in contact with HBV include getting tattoos and piercings or sharing personal items. HBV is not spread through food or water, by casual contacts or by respiratory droplets.
Risk groups include persons with multiple sex partners, men who have sex with men, sexual contacts of infected persons, injection drug users, household contacts of infected persons, hemodialysis patients and healthcare and public safety workers.
Symptoms include jaundice (a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes), fatigue, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and joint pain. Lifelong infection with resultant chronic liver disease can develop.
Immunization with Hepatitis B vaccine is the most effective means of preventing HBV infection. Other ways to protect yourself include using a latex condom every time you have sex, not injecting illegal drugs and not sharing personal care items (e.g. razors, toothbrushes) that might have blood on them.
Hepatitis B vaccine effectively prevents hepatitis B disease and its serious consequences like liver cancer. Scientific data show that the vaccine is very safe for infants, children, and adults. Three doses over 6 months are commonly needed for complete protection.
Everyone 18 years of age and younger; persons of any age whose behaviors put them at risk for HBV infection and persons whose jobs expose them to human blood should be vaccinated.