Hepatitis B



Hepatitis B is caused by a virus. It causes swelling and irritation in the liver and makes it hard for the liver to work as it should.

The hepatitis B virus (HBV) is spread by semen, vaginal secretions, saliva, blood, or body fluids from an infected person. The virus can pass from these fluids to a person through an open cut in the skin.

A woman with hepatitis can also pass HBV to her baby during childbirth.

Risk Factors

The risk of hepatitis B is higher in people who:

  • Inject illegal drugs, especially when needles are shared
  • Have unprotected sexual contact, especially with multiple partners
  • Share a residence and/or personal items with someone who has HBV
  • Stay in a hospital or long-term care facility
  • Have hemodialysis treatment
  • Have a job that includes contact with blood or body fluids, such as healthcare or public safety workers
  • Travel to areas where HBV is common



Someone infected with HBV may never have symptoms of hepatitis B.

If symptoms do develop, they appear around 60 to 150 days after exposure. Hepatitis B may cause:

  • Fatigue that lasts for weeks or months
  • Lack of hunger
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • A low fever
  • Jaundice —a yellowing of the skin and eyes
  • Belly pain in the upper right side
  • Joint pain
  • Dark urine (pee) and light colored stool (poop)

Chronic hepatitis can lead to:

  • Cirrhosis
  • Liver cancer
  • Liver failure
  • Death


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. Hepatitis B is diagnosed with blood tests.

For chronic cases, a liver biopsy may be needed.



Acute infection may not need any treatment since it usually goes away on its own.

Chronic hepatitis B may be treated with a combination of antiviral medicines. Recent sexual partners will also need to be tested and treated as well.

Steps will also need to be taken to protect the liver, such as avoiding alcohol and certain medicines and supplements.


There is a vaccine for hepatitis B that is available for adults. It is usually given as a series of 3 injections. It is routinely given to newborns. Children and teens who were not vaccinated as babies can still get the shots.

Other ways to lower the risk include:

  • Practicing safe sex
  • Avoiding illegal drug use, especially when it involves needle injections
  • Not sharing personal items that may have blood or body fluids on them
  • Wearing gloves when touching or cleaning up body fluids or personal items
  • Covering open wounds

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.