Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a sexually transmitted disease (also called STD). 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.

Hepatitis B is caused by the hepatitis B virus. You can get the virus by having sex with someone who has it. You also can get it if you share needles with someone who has the virus. About 43,000 people in the United States get hepatitis B each year.

Hepatitis B can lead to chronic (long-lasting) hepatitis B infection. This happens when your body can’t fight the infection and clear it from your body. Chronic hepatitis B infection increases your risk for severe liver disease or liver cancer. If hepatitis B causes severe liver damage, you may need a liver transplant.

If it’s not treated, you can pass hepatitis B to your baby at birth. About 9 out of 10 babies who are infected at birth develop a long-term health condition called chronic hepatitis B infection.

How do you know if you have hepatitis B?

Signs and symptoms of hepatitis B can range from mild to severe. Some people with hepatitis B have no symptoms at all. You may have hepatitis B if you have:

  • Dark urine
  • Fatigue (feeling very tired)
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • Low fever
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Upper belly pain

If you think you may have hepatitis B, tell your health care provider. If you’re pregnant, your health provider checks you for hepatitis B with a blood test at an early prenatal checkup.

How is hepatitis B treated?

Most people with hepatitis B get better and may not need treatment. But if you have chronic hepatitis B infection, you may need treatment with antivirals. Antivirals are medicines that kill infections caused by viruses. Babies and children are much more likely than adults to get chronic hepatitis B infection.

If you have hepatitis B during pregnancy, you can pass it to your baby during labor and birth. Your baby’s treatment may include: 

  • Hepatitis B vaccine within 12 hours of birth, and two more doses in the first 6 months of life
  • Hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG) shot (injection) within 12 hours of birth. This shot can help fight off hepatitis B.

How can you protect yourself from hepatitis B?

You may be more likely than others to get hepatitis B if you’re a:

  • Health care worker
  • Public safety worker
  • Woman living with an infected partner

Here’s how to help protect yourself from hepatitis B:

  • Get vaccinated. Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself against hepatitis B. It’s safe to get the vaccine during pregnancy. You can get it before or during pregnancy if you’re at high risk of hepatitis B.
  • Get tested and treated. If you find out you have hepatitis B, get treatment right away.
  • Don’t have sex. This is the best way to prevent yourself from getting an STD, including hepatitis B.
  • If you have sex, have sex with only one person who doesn’t have other sex partners. Use a condom if you’re not sure if your partner has an STD. Ask your partner to get tested and treated for STDs.
  • If you use street drugs, don’t share needles.
  • Don’t share personal care items (like razors and toothbrushes) that may have someone else’s blood or saliva on them.

Last reviewed: May, 2013