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Sexual Conditions Health Center

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Hepatitis B

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What Is Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a serious disease caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Infection with this virus can cause scarring of the liver, liver failure, liver cancer, and even death.

Hepatitis B is spread in infected blood and other bodily fluids such as semen and vaginal secretions. It is spread in the same way that the virus that causes AIDS (HIV) is spread but hepatitis B is 50 to 100 times more infectious. Most people who are infected with hepatitis B in the U.S. do not know they have it.

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What Happens to People With Hepatitis B?

In most adult cases (up to 95%), hepatitis B causes limited infection. Usually people manage to fight off the infection successfully within a few months, developing an immunity that lasts a lifetime. (This means you won't get the infection again). Blood tests show evidence of this immunity, but no signs of active infection. Unfortunately, this is not true in infants and young children in which 90% of infants and 30% to 50% of children will develop a chronic infection.

While the majority of adults with hepatitis B recover completely, a small percentage of them can't shake the disease and become carriers. Carriers can transmit the disease to others even when their own symptoms have vanished.

Some carriers go on to develop chronic hepatitis B. Chronic hepatitis is an ongoing infection of the liver that can lead to cirrhosis. Cirrhosis, or hardening of the liver, causes liver tissue to scar and stop working.

If you are carrying the virus you should not donate blood, plasma, body organs, tissue, or sperm. Tell your doctor, dentist, and sex partner that you are a hepatitis B carrier.

How Common Is Hepatitis B?

Approximately 43,000 Americans contract hepatitis B each year. However, rates have greatly declined since the 1980's when around 208,000 Americans were infected each year. This decrease in infection rates is, in large part, due to the increased use of the HBV vaccine.

It's estimated that up to 1.4 million people living with chronic hepatitis B in the U.S.

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