Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that results in liver cell damage and destruction.
Hepatitis B (HBV) is a type of hepatitis that has a wide range of signs and symptoms. It can be mild, without symptoms, or it may cause chronic hepatitis and, in some cases, can lead to liver failure and death.
Transmission of hepatitis B virus occurs through body fluid exposure such as blood, semen, vaginal secretions, or saliva. Needle sticks, sharp instruments, sharing items (razors, toothbrushes), and sex with an infected person are primary modes of transmission in developed countries. Mother-to-baby transmission is the predominant mode of transmission worldwide. Infants are highly likely to develop the disease if they are born to a mother who has the virus and if they are not vaccinated within 24 hours of birth. Further protection is provided if the baby receives hepatitis B immune globulin. Infected children often spread the virus to other children if there is frequent contact, or if a child has many scrapes or cuts.
The following describes people who are at risk for developing hepatitis B:
- Children born to mothers who have hepatitis B (the illness may present at any time after the child is born)
- Children who are born to mothers who have immigrated from a region where hepatitis B is widespread, such as Africa, Russia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, India southeast Asia and China
- People who live in long-term care facilities or who are disabled
- People who live in households where another member is infected with the virus
- People who have a blood clotting disorder such as hemophilia
- People who need dialysis for kidney failure
- People who participate in high-risk activities such as intravenous (IV) drug use and/or unprotected heterosexual or homosexual sexual contact
- People who have jobs that involve contact with human blood
- People who received blood transfusions or blood products before the early 1990s
A vaccine for hepatitis B does exist and is now widely used for routine childhood immunization and for catch-up immunization for teenagers as well as high-risk individuals. The CDC now recommends that universal infant hepatitis B vaccination should begin at birth. Hepatitis B is treatable. It is controllable, but not curable.