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Show full transcript for Hepatitis B Virus video

In this lesson, we're going to take a look at the Hepatitis B virus, also known as HBV, including signs and symptoms, ways to protect yourself, and some statistics for Hepatitis B infection in the U.S.

When a person is first infected with the Hepatitis B virus, it begins as an acute infection (meaning short in duration) and can range from very mild conditions with few or no symptoms to a serious condition requiring hospitalization.

The Hepatitis B virus reproduces in the liver, which causes inflammation. This, in turn, can also lead to cirrhosis of the liver, liver cancer, and liver failure.

An acute infection is defined by duration – the first six months after the person is exposed to the virus. Some people's bodies can fight the infection and rid it from their systems. While others become chronically infected (meaning long-term).

Pro Tip #1: What does a chronic infection mean in practical terms? It means the virus remains in the blood, affects and damages liver cells over time, which causes illnesses like cirrhosis of the liver, liver failure, liver cancer, and eventually death.

The good news – Around 90 percent of those infected (adults and older children) with the Hepatitis B virus will be able to fight the virus and expel it from their bodies within a few months and subsequently develop an immunity to it. The other 10 percent of people who contract Hepatitis B fall into that chronic category outlined above.

Warning: Hepatitis B is particularly devastating for infants and young children, as the majority will be at a much greater risk of developing a chronic infection. In most kids, Hepatitis B is a silent killer, and left unchecked will slowly destroy the liver over a period of 20 years or more.

How Hepatitis B is Contracted and Spread

Hepatitis B is contracted in the same ways as HIV. It's mainly spread through sexual contact with an infected person, or as a result of sharing needles or syringes with an infected person. And, like HIV, the infection can be passed from mother to unborn (or just-born) baby, especially if the infant came into contact with blood or other bodily fluids through breaks in the skin like cuts or sores.

Pro Tip #2: Do not expect a person with chronic Hepatitis B to look or appear sick. The virus cares little about appearances and will spread regardless.

Hepatitis B Statistics in the U.S.

  • It is estimated that up to 1.2 million people in the U.S. have a chronic Hepatitis B infection
  • 38,000 people each year become infected with the Hepatitis B virus
  • 3000 people each year die from liver disease caused by Hepatitis B
  • The number of infections has significantly decreased since 1990, thanks to routine Hepatitis B vaccinations

Hepatitis B Signs and Symptoms

Much like with HIV and AIDS, signs and symptoms for Hepatitis B are unreliable and may or may not be present. And why proper testing for both is the only sure-fire way to know if an infection is present.

Hepatitis B symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  • Yellow skin, known as jaundice
  • Yellowing eyes
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Dark urine
  • Joint pain
  • Clay-colored stools
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Fever

Pro Tip #3: The Hepatitis B virus is up to 100 times easier to catch than HIV. There are several reasons for this including the virus' size, as it's much smaller than HIV, and the fact that the Hepatitis B virus can live outside the body for at least seven days, depending on specific conditions.

Also, like HIV, Hepatitis B cannot be spread through casual contact, such as hugging, handshaking, or coming into contact with doorknobs, water fountains, and toilets.

Hepatitis B Vaccine

This is where the Hepatitis B and HIV similarities end, as there is an effective vaccine for Hepatitis B that is administered in three doses over a six-month period.

The vaccine is safe, as it's made from non-infectious materials and cannot cause one to become infected with the Hepatitis B virus. Also, severe problems or allergic reactions are rare.

The Hepatitis B vaccine is around 80 – 95 percent effective in providing protection against the virus, but only in situations where all three doses of the vaccine are administered.

Pro Tip #4: It's probably a good idea to not assume the vaccine worked. It's easy enough to confirm your newly developed immunity to the Hepatitis B virus but wait at least one to two months after completing the vaccine series before getting tested.

*It should be noted, that at this time, booster doses of the Hepatitis B vaccine are not recommended.

Consider Getting the Hepatitis Vaccine if …

There are some people who are more likely to be occupationally exposed to the Hepatitis B virus than others, and that includes:

  • Tattoo artists, or anyone who performs body piercings or body art
  • People who administer first aid routinely
  • Professionals who provide medical care
  • Employees responsible for assisting in bathroom care
  • People who work in medical and/or dental offices
  • People who handle medical waste
  • Employees who perform custodial duties that involve the cleaning of decontaminated surfaces – blood and other possibly infectious materials

Anyone whose job will, or might, expose them to the Hepatitis B virus must be offered the vaccine for free through their employer. Employees who do not want the vaccine will need to complete a vaccine declination form.