Hepatitis B is a virus that infects the liver and can lead to long-term infection. It can cause serious health problems, including cancer, liver failure, and death.
At UPMC, our liver disease experts provide quick diagnoses, close surveillance, and tailored treatment plans for people with hepatitis B. This prevents long-term health problems and helps you live a long, full life.
We also screen people at risk of hep B and provide vaccines to prevent the spread of the hepatitis B virus.
To make an appointment at the UPMC Center for Liver Diseases, call 412-647-1170 or fill out our contact form.
Hepatitis B is a type of liver disease caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). There are two types of hepatitis B infection.
Acute hep B infection occurs within six months of exposure to HBV. Some people may not have any symptoms at this point and may not know they have an infection. Others may have severe symptoms, such as vomiting that requires a hospital stay.
Chronic hep B lasts beyond six months of exposure to the virus. It occurs in around 5% to 10% of adults exposed to the virus.
Most infants and young children who get an acute infection end up with a chronic illness. This is because their immune systems aren't mature enough to fight off the virus.
Many people with chronic hep B have it for life. But medicine can slow and even stop the virus from causing further damage.
You can catch this virus through contact with body fluids of an infected person, such as:
Spread can occur through close contact, including:
A woman with hep B can pass the virus to her baby during childbirth. If you're pregnant and have hepatitis B, it's crucial to talk to your ob-gyn about treatments to protect your baby.
You can't catch hep B from:
A risk factor is something that increases your chances of getting a disease or illness.
Coming in contact with the blood or other body fluids of someone infected with HBV can increase your risk for infection.
Unlike the hepatitis A virus, hep B isn't spread through contaminated food or water.
You may increase your risk of getting hepatitis B if you:
People at risk for hepatitis B include:
Note: All pregnant women should get a blood test for hepatitis B early in their pregnancy. That's because moms can spread HBV to their babies during birth.
Left untreated, hepatitis B can lead to serious problems, including:
Doctors might not detect chronic hep B infection for decades until you become seriously ill from liver disease.
See your doctor if you have yellowing of the skin (jaundice) or abnormal belly pain.
Tests that can help diagnose hep B are:
Symptoms appear within 25 to 180 days after HBV exposure.
The most common hepatitis B symptoms are:
Talk to your doctor about screening for hep B if you:
If you're diagnosed with hepatitis B, be sure that your baby receives the vaccine on the following schedule:
Your baby should also get a blood test nine to 15 months after birth to be sure they've built up enough protection. Protection is not complete without all three doses of the hep B vaccine.
There's no medicine to treat acute hepatitis virus itself.
If you have severe symptoms, you may need hospital care to treat dehydration and help you rest.
For a chronic hepatitis B infection, doctors might not treat it — at least not right away. Most people's immune systems work to keep them healthy without medicine. And medication has side effects.
Whether your doctor treats your chronic hep B infection depends on your choice, age, health status, and liver test results.
Your doctor will take blood about every six months to check liver function. They'll talk to you about drugs to treat hep B at the earliest signs of liver damage.
Interferons are man-made versions of proteins your immune system uses to attack viruses.
You'll need to see your doctor for a shot once a week for six months to a year.
This treatment can give your immune system the boost it needs to suppress HBV.
Antiviral drugs attack the virus, reducing its ability to attack the liver.
You'll need to take these drugs daily for a year or longer.
In some people, drugs don't work to control their chronic hep B infection. You may qualify for a liver transplant if the disease causes advanced liver damage.
People who get transplants must take anti-rejection medicine for life, so the immune system doesn't reject the new organ. They must also take drugs to prevent hepatitis B from spreading to their new liver.
People with a chronic hepatitis B infection should avoid anything that can further damage the liver.
Before taking any herb or drug, check with your doctor to make sure it will not hurt your liver.
Your PCP can refer you, or you can call us to make an appointment at 412-647-1170 or 1-855-745-4837.
How soon you'll have an appointment depends on:
You can prevent hepatitis B infection by getting a series of three vaccines during a six-month period.
Also, to help prevent hep B:
If you get a tattoo or body piercing, make sure the artist or piercer properly cleans the equipment. You might get infected if the tools have someone else's blood on them.
Health care and public safety workers are at higher risk of hep B.
To best protect themselves, these workers should:
If you have chronic hep B, you can prevent the spread by: