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What I need to know about Hepatitis B
On this page:

What is hepatitis B?
What causes hepatitis B?
How could I get hepatitis B?
What are the symptoms?
What are the tests for hepatitis B?
How is hepatitis B treated?
How can I protect myself?
For More Information
What is hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is a liver disease.
Hepatitis (HEP-ah-TY-tis) makes your liver swell and stops it from working right.

You need a healthy liver. The liver does many things to keep you alive. The liver fights infections and stops bleeding. It removes drugs and other poisons from your blood. The liver also stores energy for when you need it.


What causes hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is caused by a virus.
A virus is a germ that causes sickness. (For example, the flu is caused by a virus.) People can pass viruses to each other. The virus that causes hepatitis B is called the hepatitis B virus.


How could I get hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B spreads by contact with an infected person's blood, semen, or other body fluid.
You could get hepatitis B by
having sex with an infected person without using a condom

sharing drug needles

having a tattoo or body piercing done with dirty tools that were used on someone else

getting pricked with a needle that has infected blood on it (health care workers can get hepatitis B this way)

living with someone who has hepatitis B

sharing a toothbrush or razor with an infected person

traveling to countries where hepatitis B is common
An infected woman can give hepatitis B to her baby at birth or through her breast milk.

You can NOT get hepatitis B by
shaking hands with an infected person

hugging an infected person

sitting next to an infected person


What are the symptoms?
Hepatitis B can make you feel like you have the flu.
You might
feel tired

feel sick to your stomach

have a fever

not want to eat

have stomach pain

have diarrhea

Some people have
dark yellow urine

light-colored stools

yellowish eyes and skin

Some people don't have any symptoms.
If you have symptoms or think you might have hepatitis B, go to a doctor.


The doctor will take some blood to check for hepatitis B.
What are the tests for hepatitis B?
To check for hepatitis B, the doctor will test your blood.
These tests show if you have hepatitis B and how serious it is.

The doctor may also do a liver biopsy.
A biopsy (BYE-op-see) is a simple test. The doctor removes a tiny piece of your liver through a needle. The doctor checks the piece of liver for signs of hepatitis B and liver damage.


How is hepatitis B treated?
Treatment for hepatitis B may involve
Hepatitis B is treated through shots of medicine.
 A drug called interferon (in-ter-FEAR-on). It is given through shots. Most people are treated for 4 months.

A drug called lamivudine (la-MIV-you-deen). You take it by mouth once a day. Treatment is usually for one year.

A drug called adefovir dipivoxil (uh-DEH-foh-veer dih-pih-VOX-ill). You take it by mouth once a day. Treatment is usually for one year.

Surgery. Over time, hepatitis B may cause your liver to stop working. If that happens, you will need a new liver. The surgery is called a liver transplant. It involves taking out the old, damaged liver and putting in a new, healthy one from a donor.


How can I protect myself?
You can get the hepatitis B vaccine.
Vaccines protect you from getting hepatitis B.
A vaccine is a drug that you take when you are healthy that keeps you from getting sick. Vaccines teach your body to attack certain viruses, like the hepatitis B virus.

The hepatitis B vaccine is given through three shots. All babies should get the vaccine. Infants get the first shot within 12 hours after birth. They get the second shot at age 1 to 2 months and the third shot between ages 6 and 18 months.

Older children and adults can get the vaccine, too. They get three shots over 6 months. Children who have not had the vaccine should get it.

You need all of the shots to be protected. If you are traveling to other countries, make sure you get all the shots before you go. If you miss a shot, call your doctor or clinic right away to set up a new appointment.

You can also protect yourself and others from hepatitis B if you

People who touch blood at work should wear gloves to protect themselves from hepatitis B.
use a condom when you have sex

don't share drug needles with anyone

wear gloves if you have to touch anyone's blood

don't use an infected person's toothbrush, razor, or anything else that could have blood on it

make sure any tattooing or body piercing is done with clean tools

For More Information
You can also get information about hepatitis B from these groups:

American Liver Foundation (ALF)
75 Maiden Lane, Suite 603
New York, NY 10038-4810
24-hour helpline (7 days/week): 1-800-465-4837 or 1-888-443-7222
Phone: 1-800-676-9340 or (212) 668-1000
Fax: (212) 483-8179

Hepatitis B Foundation
700 East Butler Avenue
Doylestown, PA 18901-2697
Phone: (215) 489-4900
Fax: (215) 489-4920

Hepatitis Foundation International (HFI)
504 Blick Drive
Silver Spring, MD 20904-2901
Phone: 1-800-891-0707 or (301) 622-4200
Fax: (301) 622-4702

There are other types of hepatitis. The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse also has booklets about hepatitis A and hepatitis C:

What I need to know about Hepatitis A

What I need to know about Hepatitis C

You can get a free copy of each of these booklets by calling 1-800-891-5389 or (301) 654-3810, or by writing to

2 Information Way
Bethesda, MD 20892-3570
Hepatitis information for health professionals is also available.


The individuals listed here provided editorial guidance or facilitated field testing for this publication. The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse would like to thank these individuals for their contribution.
Bruce Bacon, M.D.
Chair, Education Committee
American Liver Foundation
New York, NY
Luby Garza-Abijaoude, M.S., R.D., L.D.
Texas Department of Health
Austin, TX
Thelma Thiel, R.N., B.A.
Hepatitis Foundation International
Cedar Grove, NJ



National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse
2 Information Way
Bethesda, MD 20892-3570

The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC) is a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). The NIDDK is part of the National Institutes of Health under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Established in 1980, the clearinghouse provides information about digestive diseases to people with digestive disorders and to their families, health care professionals, and the public. NDDIC answers inquiries, develops and distributes publications, and works closely with professional and patient organizations and Government agencies to coordinate resources about digestive diseases.

Publications produced by the clearinghouse are carefully reviewed by both NIDDK scientists and outside experts.

This e-text is not copyrighted. The clearinghouse encourages users of this e-pub to duplicate and distribute as many copies as desired.


NIH Publication No. 04-4228
December 2003

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