Like hepatitis A, hepatitis B is a contagious viral infection of the liver. It can range in severity from a mild illness that goes away after a few weeks to a serious illness causing lifelong health problems. Hepatitis B is spread through contact with bodily fluids of a person infected with this virus. Most commonly, this happens through sexual contact, sharing needles, or getting a tattoo or piercing with equipment that hasn't been sterilized. Hepatitis B can also be transmitted from mother to baby during childbirth. Hepatitis B cannot be transmitted through casual contact such as kissing, holding hands or hugging. The hepatitis B vaccine is the best way to prevent infection.
Symptoms of hepatitis B don't emerge immediately after exposure, and many people with hepatitis B never have symptoms at all. Symptoms that can occur include mild fever, headache, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, muscle and joint pain, abdominal pain, a skin rash, and jaundice. When these symptoms appear within the first six months after exposure to the virus, it is known as acute hepatitis B. Acute infection usually lasts a short time and goes away on its own. However, in some cases, acute infection can lead to chronic infection. Chronic hepatitis B occurs when the virus remains in a person's body. It can cause long-term health problems and even death.
Most people with chronic hepatitis B can keep themselves healthy by making good lifestyle choices and following the treatment regimen prescribed by their doctor. This may include antiviral medications to fight the hep B virus and slow its ability to damage the liver. If liver damage is severe, a liver transplant may be necessary.