Hepatitis B (HBV) is a virus that infects and can damage the liver. It is passed from one person to another when the blood or sexual fluids of an HBV infected person gets into another persons blood stream through openings in the skin (punctures, cuts, sores) or through the mucosal membranes (in the nose or genitals). Hepatitis B can live outside of the body for several days. Hepatitis B infection can be temporary and can clear on its own, or can develop into chronic or long-term infection. Adults with a healthy immune system often clear Hepatitis B on their own without treatment and once cleared, you are immune for life.
Infants are born with an undeveloped immune system, have a hard time fighting off Hepatitis B, and have the highest risk of going on to chronic infection. Most of the people living with chronic infection in the world were infected by their mothers during childbirth. All pregnant women should be tested for Hepatitis B, and those at risk should be vaccinated and also tested at the time of birth. Infants born to infected mothers can be protected by giving HBIG and the first dose of the Hepatitis B vaccine during their first 12 hours, followed by the complete vaccine series. In NYC, the Department of Health has a Peri-natal Hepatitis B Prevention Program devoted to preventing mother to child transmission.
Young children, people with weakened immune systems such as those with HIV, a serious illness, dialysis patients, and the elderly are also at higher risk for Hepatitis B than the general population and should be vaccinated.
Over time, chronic infection can cause the liver tissue to become scarred and eventually lead to serious liver damage which can cause the liver to shut down. There is a high risk for liver cancer when infected with Hepatitis B.
There is a vaccine to prevent Hepatitis B, which is safe and effective and is provided in 3 doses.
If you have Hepatitis B is important to go to regular appointments with a liver medical specialist, avoid alcohol which can further damage the liver, and ensure your household members and intimate partners are protected by getting vaccinated, and do not come into contact with your blood, cuts & sores, or sexual fluids.