Hepatitis B Basics

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Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is a virus that infects the liver and can be categorized into two types of infection: acute or chronic. People with acute HBV usually experience symptoms for about 6 months, and usually clear the virus completely, meaning they are no longer contagious and are immune from future infection. Those with chronic HBV will experience a lifelong infection that, without treatment, can lead to serious or life-threatening diseases such as liver cancer or cirrhosis.

Monitoring and medical treatment can slow or prevent damage to the liver, but a HBV-positive individual will be contagious for the rest of their lives. The virus is present in an infected person’s blood and semen and can be transmitted through contact with blood, unprotected sex, or through the sharing of IV drug needles. There is also vertical transmission from mother to child during childbirth. HBV cannot be transmitted through saliva, sneezing, coughing or casual contact, such as hugging and kissing.

There is an excellent vaccine available to prevent infection with Hepatitis B virus which requires 2-3 doses to be the most effective. It is recommended for all infants and is given as part of a child’s routine vaccination series, starting with the first dose at birth. Some adults who were not vaccinated as children may benefit from the vaccine as well.

For more information about Hepatitis B, those who are particularly at risk for contracting the disease, and tips on preventing the disease visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention page on HBV.

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