Hepatitis B

KEY POINTS

  • Hepatitis B is an infection you can get from having unprotected sex with someone who’s infected or from direct contact with infected body fluids.

  • If you’re pregnant and have hepatitis B, you can pass it to your baby at birth. Hepatitis B can cause lifelong problems for your baby.

  • If you’re pregnant and have hepatitis B, get treatment right away. Early treatment can help protect your baby.

  • If you don’t have hepatitis B, get vaccinated. Ask your partner to get vaccinated, too. Vaccination is the best way to prevent hepatitis B.

What is hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a sexually transmitted disease (also called STD) that’s caused by a virus. An STD is an infection you can get from having sex with someone who is infected. You can get an STD from vaginal, anal or oral sex. 

You also can get hepatitis B by having direct contact with infected body fluids, like blood, saliva, semen and vaginal fluid. It can spread easily through breaks in the skin or in soft body tissues in the nose, mouth and eyes.

You can get hepatitis B if you: 

  • Have unprotected sex with an infected partner
  • Use street drugs and share needles with an infected person
  • Share things like razors and toothbrushes with an infected person
  • Come in contact with blood, open sores or body fluid from an infected person. This may happen if you work in a health care setting, like a hospital, doctor’s office or lab, or if you work in public safety, like as a police officer, firefighter or emergency medical technician (also called EMT).

Hepatitis B is not spread through sneezing, coughing, hugging or breastfeeding. Even though the virus can be found in saliva, you can’t get it from kissing or sharing eating utensils (forks, spoons, knives) with someone who’s infected.

There are two kinds of hepatitis B:

  1. Acute hepatitis B. This is when you’re sick for less than 6 months. Your provider can give you a blood test to see if you’re infected. There is no treatment for acute hepatitis B, but your provider may tell you to rest, eat healthy foods and drink lots of water. Once your body fights off the infection, you’re immune to it, which means you can’t get it again. If the infection doesn’t go away, it can lead to chronic hepatitis B.
  2. Chronic hepatitis B. This infection lasts 6 months or longer, maybe even for life. Chronic hepatitis B increases your risk for damage to your liver, including severe liver disease or liver cancer. There is no cure for chronic hepatitis B, but your provider watches you closely to check for liver problems. She also may treat you with antivirals. These are medicines that kill infections caused by viruses. Many people with chronic hepatitis B don’t have signs or symptoms, so they don’t know they’re infected. Even if you don’t look or feel sick, you can pass the infection to others.

Can hepatitis B during pregnancy cause problems for your baby?

Yes. If you have hepatitis B and it’s not treated, you can pass it to your baby at birth. About 9 in 10 pregnant women (90 percent) with acute hepatitis B pass the infection to their baby. About 2 in 10 pregnant women (20 percent) with chronic hepatitis B pass the infection to their baby. 

About 9 out of 10 babies (90 percent) infected at birth develop chronic hepatitis B infection. This infection can cause life-long liver problems for your baby, including scars on the liver, liver failure (when the liver stops working) and even liver cancer.

If your baby has hepatitis B, his treatment may include:

  • Getting a hepatitis B vaccination within 24 hours of birth, and two more doses in the first 18 months of life. A vaccination is a shot that contains a vaccine that helps protect against certain diseases. 
  • Getting a hepatitis B immune globulin (also called HBIG) shot within 12 hours of birth. HBIG is a type of antiviral that gives your baby extra help to fight off the infection.  

All babies get vaccinated for hepatitis B at birth, and they need two more vaccinations before 18 months. Talk to your baby’s provider about vaccinations that help protect her from harmful diseases.

What are the signs and symptoms of hepatitis B?

Signs and symptoms of hepatitis B can range from mild to severe, or you may have no signs or symptoms at all. Signs and symptoms include: 

  • Dark urine
  • Fatigue. This is when you feel really tired and have no energy.
  • Jaundice. This is when your eyes and skin look yellow. It’s caused when your liver isn’t working properly. 
  • Low fever
  • Loss of appetite. This means you’re not very hungry. 
  • Nausea and vomiting. Nausea is feeling sick to your stomach. 
  • Upper belly pain

If you think you may have hepatitis B, tell your health care provider. During pregnancy, your provider gives you a blood test at your first prenatal care checkup to test for hepatitis B and other infections. Prenatal care is medical care you get during pregnancy. 

How can you protect yourself from hepatitis B?

Here’s how to protect yourself from hepatitis B:

  • Get vaccinated. Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself against hepatitis B. You can get vaccinated for hepatitis B before or during pregnancy.  
  • Get tested and treated. If you find out you have hepatitis B, talk to your provider about treatment. Ask your partner to get tested and treated, too.
  • Don’t have sex. If you do have sex, have safe sex. Have sex with only one person who doesn’t have other sex partners. Use a barrier method of birth control every time. Birth control is methods you can use to keep from getting pregnant. Barrier methods of birth control keep a man’s sperm from reaching a woman’s egg, and some help protect against STDs. Barrier methods include condoms (male or female) and dental dams. A dental dam is a square piece of rubber that can help protect you from STDs during oral sex. 
  • If you use street drugs, don’t share needles.
  • Don’t share things like razors or toothbrushes.
  • If you work in a health care setting, follow your workplace safety rules. Wear gloves, a gown, a mask and goggles. Don’t have direct contact with body fluids and lab samples that may be infected with hepatitis B. After direct contact with infected patients, fluids or lab samples, wash your hands well with soap and water or use a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol in it. Follow safety rules for throwing out needles and other items that may have body fluids on them.

If you have hepatitis B, can you pass it to your baby through breastfeeding?

No. You can’t spread hepatitis B by breastfeeding. It’s safe to breastfeed your baby.

Last reviewed: April, 2017