Hepatitis B (HBV)

Hepatitis BHepatitis B is an infection of the liver. It is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). The virus is most commonly spread through sex with an infected person and through sharing of contaminated needles and other drug-using paraphernalia. People with chronic HBV infection are at an increased risk of developing serious health complications.

Image Content Provider: CDC/Betty Partin

Symptoms

Symptoms generally appear two to six months after initial contact with HBV. About 50 percent of those infected will develop symptoms. When symptoms appear in these people, they can include jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, dark urine, pale stools, joint pain and pain in the stomach area. Individuals with chronic infection may develop scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) or liver cancer.

Causes

HBV is found in the blood and body fluids (semen, vaginal fluid and saliva) of an infected person. The virus is usually spread through sex. It is also spread through sharing of contaminated needles and other drug-using paraphernalia.

HBV cannot be spread by coughing, sneezing, or touching or shaking hands.

Treatment

Within six months of becoming infected, about 90 percent of adults will clear the virus on their own. This is known as acute hepatitis B. These individuals will develop lifelong protection against HBV.

The remaining 10 percent who are unable to clear the virus become chronic carriers. This means they are chronically infected and infectious. There are various medications available to treat chronic hepatitis B and to help protect against liver damage.

Prevention

Hepatitis B can be prevented through immunization. Manitoba has a provincial immunization program. This provides free, publicly-funded hepatitis B vaccine to those who are eligible. If you are pregnant and infected with hepatitis B, your infant is at high risk of becoming a carrier. It is recommended that infants born to infected mothers receive a special injection as well as the first dose of the vaccine within 12 hours of birth. This will help prevent infection.

Hepatitis B can be prevented by always avoiding risky behaviours. These risky behaviours include having multiple sexual partners, having unprotected sex and sharing needles.


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