Hepatitis B is a serious disease caused by a virus that attacks the liver. The virus, which is called hepatitis B virus (HBV), can cause lifelong infection, cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, liver cancer, liver failure, and death.
In most cases, hepatitis B causes limited infection. Usually people over age five manage to fight off the infection successfully within a few months, developing an immunity that lasts a lifetime (this means you won't get the infection again).
If you are infected with hepatitis B for more than six months, you are considered a carrier, even if you have no symptoms. This means that you can transmit the disease to others by having unprotected sex, exposing blood or open sores to another person, sharing needles or syringes. Being diagnosed with HIV increases an individual’s chance of catching hepatitis B by over 50 times.
Symptoms of acute infection (when a person is first infected with hepatitis B) include:
- • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes and/or a brownish or orange tint to the urine)
- • Unusually light-colored stool
- • Fever
- • Unexplained fatigue that persists for weeks or months
- • Gastrointestinal symptoms such as loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting
- • Abdominal pain
- • Frequently there will be no symptoms, and it is only discovered in a blood test
Often, symptoms occur one to six months after exposure. An estimated 30% of those infected do not show typical signs or symptoms.
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