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Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by exposure to the Hepatitis B virus. Many people worldwide are infected with Hepatitis B at birth or early on in childhood, but do not develop symptoms until much later. It is estimated that 1.2 million people in the United States are infected with the virus, many of which do not know they have it.
Hepatitis B starts as an acute infection. At this stage, an infected person may be able to fight off the infection. If not, the infection becomes a chronic, lifelong illness. Over time the infection can lead to serious health problems, such as liver cancer or cirrhosis with liver failure.
Hepatitis B is spread when an infected person’s bodily fluids, such as blood or semen, enter the body of a non-infected person. Common modes of transmission include sexual contact, sharing syringes, and direct contact with open wounds. The virus can also be spread from an infected mother at birth.
Symptoms of Hepatitis B may not develop for up to thirty years. By the time symptoms do develop, it is usually a sign of advanced liver disease.
Approximately 15%-25% of people with chronic Hepatitis B can develop cirrhosis, liver cancer, or liver failure over time. Because these symptoms may not appear for years, it is imperative to be tested for Hepatitis B to determine whether or not you are infected.
The best way to prevent Hepatitis B infection is to get vaccinated. It is recommended that all infants and children under 19 years of age are vaccinated. Other groups of people that should be vaccinated include people at risk through sexual contact, current drug-users, international travelers, people infected with Hepatitis C, people with HIV, people with diabetes, first responders and healthcare personnel, people who are incarcerated, and people with chronic liver disease.
There are currently several types of Hepatitis B vaccines available in the United States.
Premier Health Associates’ gastroenterology department has extensive experience in treating Hepatitis and other liver diseases. If you are having symptoms, make an appointment with Premier Health Associates as soon as possible. We are open seven days a week.