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Hepatitis B FAQ
Common questions about hepatitis B infection:
If I am not infected, how do I protect myself?
What is hepatitis B infection?
Hepatitis B is a disease caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). HBV infection can be acute (immunity develops within six months of viral exposure) or chronic (immunity fails to develop after six months from viral exposure). HBV is 100 times more infectious than the virus that causes AIDS.
Once inside the body, HBV travels through the blood to the liver, where it uses liver cells to replicate itself, allowing it to invade more liver cells.
In the process of fighting off HBV, the body's immune system kills infected liver cells. While this may eliminate the virus, it can also cause serious liver damage. This may include cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver failure, liver cancer, and death. Chronic HBV infection is the main cause of liver cancer worldwide.
Like the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), HBV is transmitted through direct contact with infected blood and body fluids. This can happen by sharing needles, razors, toothrushes, or earrings, or if unsanitary needles are used during body piercing, tattooing, or acupuncture. HBV can also be transmitted by having unprotected sex (without a condom) with someone who is HBV-infected.
An infected mother can pass HBV on to her child during delivery. This is the predominant means of HBV transmission in the Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) population.
Traveling to regions where HBV is common, such as China, Southeast Asia, and Africa, is another risk factor for becoming infected.
HBV is NOT transmitted by coughing, sneezing, hugging, holding hands, breastfeeding, sharing utensils, eating food prepared by someone with HBV, or by kissing on the cheek.
Hepatitis B infection is a very common infection among people born in Asia and Asian Americans. More than 100 million Asians worldwide are chronically infected with hepatitis B. In New York City alone, up to 15 percent of Asian Americans have chronic hepatitis B, and liver cancer is 10 times more likely to occur in Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders than in the rest of the U.S. population.
HBV infection can cause jaundice (a yellowing of the skin and the whites of your eyes), loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, extreme fatigue, joint pain, and dark brown urine.
It is important to note that many people do not realize they are infected with HBV because its symptoms are often absent or very mild. Some people who are exposed to HBV will get rid of it, but many others will develop chronic or long-term infection. The only sure way of learning if you are infected is by getting a blood test. You should ask for a blood test that checks for the hepatitis B virus and also tests if you already have protection against it.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) created a survey to help assess whether you may be at risk for hepatitis B:
Currently, there is no cure for hepatitis B, but drug therapy can help prevent serious liver damage. If you are HBV-infected, you should:
- See a doctor about treatment and be checked for liver cancer
- Not drink alcohol
- Not use medication or other drugs that can harm the liver
- Eat food that is good for you and maintain a healthy weight
- Not smoke
- Make sure that your family members and people you live with get tested
- Avoid spreading HBV by using condoms when you have sex and keeping your blood from contacting other people
You should be vaccinated if your blood test shows that have not been protected from HBV.
Your doctor will tell you if you need to be vaccinated.
The vaccine is safe, works well, and is available for people of all ages. It consists of three doses that are given at least one month apart from each other. You need all three doses to gain full protection against HBV.
You CANNOT get HBV from the vaccine.
Before being vaccinated, make sure to get a blood test and talk to your doctor.