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Hepatitis Information Center

Living with Chronic Hepatitis B*

What is Chronic (life- long) HEPATITIS B?

Chronic hepatitis B is a life-long liver disease caused by infection with the hepatitis B virus, HBV for short. Some people who get infected never get rid of the virus. They stay infected for life, and can spread HBV to others. If you have had other types of hepatitis, such as hepatitis A or hepatitis C, you can still get hepatitis B.

1.25 million people living in the United States have life-long hepatitis B. Not all people who are infected with HBV look or feel sick; they can have the virus and not have symptoms or know they're sick.

Life-long infection increases your chance of getting cirrhosis (si-RO-sis, that is, scarring) of the liver or liver cancer. Each year, 5,000 people die as a result of liver disease caused by HBV.

How could you have gotten infected with HBV?

HBV is spread by blood and sex. You may have gotten infected if:

  • You had sex with an infected person.
  • You shot street drugs.
  • Your mother had hepatitis B when you were born.
  • You lived with an infected person.
  • You are a health care worker and were exposed to infected blood.

Is there medical treatment for you?

  • Medicines are available that might reduce your chance of getting severe liver disease.
  • Talk to your doctor to find out if you have liver damage and if these medicines would be helpful.
  • The medicines are not approved for persons under 18 years of age.
  • You should not take these medicines if you are pregnant.

What if you are pregnant?

HBV can be spread to your baby during birth, but this can be prevented.

  • You should be sure that your baby gets a shot called H-B-I-G and the first dose of hepatitis B vaccine within 12 hours of birth.
  • Your baby should get the second dose of hepatitis B vaccine at 1 to 2 months of age and the third dose at 6 months of age.
  • Your baby should get a blood test at 9-15 months of age to be sure your baby is protected.

What should you know to keep others from getting infected with HBV?

  • Your sex partner should get hepatitis B vaccine. If not, you should use latex condoms correctly every time you have sex. The efficacy of latex condoms in preventing infection with HBV is unknown, but their proper use may reduce transmission.
  • All the people who live with you should get hepatitis B vaccine.
  • Don't share anything that might have blood on it, such as a toothbrush or razor.
  • If you shoot drugs, get help to stop or get into a treatment program. Don't share drugs, needles, syringes, cookers, cotton, water, or rinse cups. Get hepatitis A vaccine.

You cannot spread HBV by:

  • Sneezing or coughing
  • Kissing or hugging
  • Breast feeding
  • Food or water
  • Sharing eating utensils or drinking glasses
  • Casual contact (such as an office setting)

*Based on information published by the Centers for Disease Control.

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