Go to Kentucky.gov home page
Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services (Banner Imagery) - Go to home page

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a disease caused by a highly infectious virus that attacks the liver. Hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection can lead to severe illness, liver damage and -  in some cases - death.

Who is at Risk?

Hepatitis B is a serious public health problem that affects people of all ages in the United States and around the world. Each year, more than 240,000 people contract hepatitis B in the United States. About one out of 20 people in the United States will get hepatitis B sometime during their lives. If you engage in certain behaviors, your risk for hepatitis B may be much higher. You may be at risk for hepatitis B if you:

  • Have a job that exposes you to human blood (health care provider).
  • Share a household with someone who has HBV infection.
  • Inject drugs.
  • Have sex with a person infected with HBV.
  • Have sex with more than one partner during a six-month period.
  • Men who have sex with men.
  • Infants born to HBV infected mothers.
  • Received blood transfusions in the past before excellent testing was available (1975).
  • Are a person whose parents were born in Asia, Africa, the Amazon Basin in South America, the Pacific Islands, Eastern Europe or the Middle East.
  • Were born in an area listed above.
  • Were adopted from an area listed above.
  • Are an Alaska native.
  • Have hemophilia.
  • Have a job that involves contact with human blood.
  • Are a patient or worker in an institution for the developmentally disabled.
  • Are an inmate of a long-term correctional facility.
  • Travel internationally to areas with a high incidence of hepatitis B.

How Hepatitis B Is Spread

HBV is found in blood and certain body fluids of people infected with HBV, fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal secretions and saliva. Contact with even a small amount of blood can cause infection. Hepatitis B is not found in sweat, tears, urine, or respiratory secretions.

Hepatitis B Can Be Spread By:

  • Unprotected sex.
  • Injecting drug use.
  • During birth from mother to child.
  • Contact with blood or open sores of an infected person.
  • Human bites.
  • Sharing a household with an infected person.
  • Sharing items such as razors, toothbrushes or washcloths.
  • Pre-chewing food for babies, or sharing chewing gum.
  • Using unsterilized needles or other instruments in ear or body piercing, tattooing or acupuncture.
  • Use of the same immunization needle on more than one person.

The Symptoms Of Hepatitis B

Most people who get hepatitis B as babies or children don’t look or feel sick at all. Over half of adults who get hepatitis B never have any symptoms of signs of the disease. You may have hepatitis B (and be spreading the disease) and not know it. If people do have signs or symptoms, they may experience any or all of the following:

  • Loss of appetite.
  • Yellow skin or eyes (jaundice).
  • Nausea and/or vomiting.
  • Fever.
  • Weakness, tiredness, inability to work for weeks or months.
  • Abdominal pain and/or joint pain.
  • Dark urine.

How Hepatitis B Is Diagnosed And Treated

The only way to know if you are infected with hepatitis B, have recovered, or are a chronic carrier is by having a blood test done at your physician’s office or health care provider.  There is no cure for hepatitis B; this is why prevention is so important. People diagnosed with hepatitis B should see their physician regularly for follow-up care.

How Hepatitis B Can Be Prevented

Hepatitis B vaccine is the best protection against HBV. Three doses of this vaccine are needed for complete protection.

All pregnant women should be tested for hepatitis B early in their pregnancy. If the blood test is positive, the baby should receive the vaccine along with another shot (hepatitis B immune globulin), at birth. Then the vaccine series for the baby should be completed during the first six months of life.

Who Should Get Vaccinated

  • All babies, at birth.
  • All children 11 – 12 years of age whom have not been vaccinated.
  • Persons of any age whose behavior puts them at high risk for HBV infection.
  • Persons whose jobs expose them to human blood.

For more information about Hepatitis B virus, contact your health care provider, local health department, or the Kentucky Department for Public Health at (502) 564-3261.


See Also...
  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Hepatitis A,B, and C.

Related Content

KY Hepatitis Connection Newsletter

Last Updated 1/8/2014
Privacy | Security | Disclaimer | Accessibility Statement