Hepatitis B

Infection with hepatitis B virus (HBV) can lead to acute or chronic hepatitis B disease, both of which cause damage to the liver. A vigorous immune response to infection leads to the eventual clearing of the vaccine from the body; this is called an acute infection. If the virus is not cleared, it remains in the body, damaging the liver over many years, and can lead to life threatening liver disease if not treated; this is called chronic infection.

Hepatitis B in the United States

In the United States, there are between 70,000-1.4 million people who are chronically infected and thousands of new cases each year, some of which will lead to chronic infection. The incidence of new infections has been on the decline since the inclusion of the hepatitis B vaccine to the list of vaccine recommendations in 1991. This safe and effective vaccine is recommended for all infants, starting at birth. Additionally, if an unvaccinated individual seeks medical attention immediately after exposure, it may still be possible to prevent infection with a shot called hepatitis B immunoglobulin (HBIG) and completion of the 3 shot vaccine series. Because of these safety measures, outbreaks of hepatitis B are rare and small in the United States. That being said, people infected with hepatitis B virus are at risk of developing serious health complications (cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, premature death from liver cancer or liver failure), and should seek care from their medical provider to monitor their health.

Hepatitis B Globally

Hepatitis B is most common in certain areas of Africa, Asia, Pacific Islands, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and South America and the Caribbean. Please see this map of the prevalence of chronic hepatitis B infection for more details.
Perinatal Hepatitis B Programs
Hepatitis B virus can be spread from a mother to infant during childbirth if certain medical steps are not taken.  These steps are very safe, and when they are taken immediately after birth, the chance of a mother passing hepatitis B virus to her child is extremely low. Find out about the Alameda County Public Health Department’s Perinatal Hepatitis B Program, which works with Hepatitis B positive pregnant women, their babies, and their doctors to keep both mothers and babies healthy. Also, read more about these programs all over California on the website of the California Department of Public Health.

Other Hepatitis Viruses

The word “hepatitis” comes from the words meaning “liver” and “inflammation”. There are many diseases that can lead to liver inflammation, several of which have the word “hepatitis” in their names. Despite their similar sounding names and their often similar symptoms, these diseases are caused by different viruses, have different modes of transmission, and different methods of treatment and prevention. The most common of these hepatitis diseases, in addition to hepatitis B are hepatitis A and hepatitis C. Compare these three diseases with the ABCs of Hepatitis Factsheet. Additionally, hepatitis D and hepatitis E viruses are also causes of human disease worldwide, but are much less common than the others.

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