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Hepatitis B

Infectious liver disease caused by the hepatitis B virus, spread primarily through sexual contact or through perinatal (vertical) transmission; now preventable by vaccine. Approximately 5% of acute hepatitis B cases become chronic.

PubMed Health Glossary
(Source: NIH - National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and National Library of Medicine)

About Hepatitis B

What is acute hepatitis B?

Acute hepatitis B is a short-term infection with the hepatitis B virus. Symptoms usually last several weeks but they can last up to 6 months. The infection sometimes clears up because your body is able to fight off the infection and get rid of the virus. Most healthy adults and children older than 5 who have hepatitis B get better without treatment.

What is chronic hepatitis B?

Chronic hepatitis B is a long-lasting infection with the hepatitis B virus. Chronic hepatitis B occurs when the body can't get rid of the hepatitis B virus. Children, especially infants, are more likely to get chronic hepatitis B, which usually has no symptoms until signs of liver damage appear.

Without treatment, chronic hepatitis B can cause liver cancer or severe liver damage that leads to liver failure. Liver failure occurs when the liver stops working properly. NIH - National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

Hepatitis B vaccine, hepatitis B immunoglobulin, and hepatitis B vaccine plus immunoglobulin prevent perinatal transmission of hepatitis B

Hepatitis B vaccination and hepatitis B immunoglobulin are considered as preventive measures for newborn infants of HBsAg positive mothers. When all the identified trials were combined, hepatitis B vaccine alone, hepatitis B immunoglobulin alone, and hepatitis B vaccine plus hepatitis B immunoglobulin reduced perinatal transmission of hepatitis B compared with placebo or no intervention. Hepatitis B vaccine plus hepatitis B immunoglobulin were superior to hepatitis B vaccination alone. Adverse events were rare and mostly non‐serious.

In children or grown‐ups who have not been previously exposed to hepatitis B infection or whose exposure status is not known, hepatitis B vaccination as compared with no hepatitis B vaccination has an unclear effect on the risk of developing hepatitis B infection

Several million people world‐wide are infected with hepatitis B virus. The infection may cause serious short‐term and long‐term effects including portal hypertension, liver failure, liver cancer, and death. Hepatitis B vaccination is reported to be beneficial in some specific groups of people such as babies born to women infected with hepatitis B, health‐care workers, and people with long‐standing kidney failure. Whether hepatitis B vaccine is beneficial in people who have not been exposed to hepatitis B infection or those whose exposure status is not known is assessed in the present review.

Hepatitis B (Chronic): Diagnosis and Management of Chronic Hepatitis B in Children, Young People and Adults

Chronic hepatitis B describes a spectrum of disease usually characterised by the presence of detectable hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) in the blood or serum for longer than 6 months. In some people, chronic hepatitis B is inactive and does not present significant health problems, but others may progress to liver fibrosis, cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). The progression of liver disease is associated with hepatitis B virus (HBV) DNA levels in the blood. Without antiviral treatment, the 5-year cumulative incidence of cirrhosis ranges from 8 to 20%. People with cirrhosis face a significant risk of decompensated liver disease if they remain untreated. Five-year survival rates among people with untreated decompensated cirrhosis can be as low as 15%. Chronic hepatitis B can be divided into e antigen- (HBeAg) positive or HBeAg-negative disease based on the presence or absence of e antigen. The presence of HBeAg is typically associated with higher rates of viral replication and therefore increased infectivity.

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Summaries for consumers

Hepatitis B: Overview

Hepatitis is the medical term for an inflammation of the liver. It is often caused by an infection with certain viruses. The hepatitis B virus is mainly spread through blood, but also through other body fluids. 

Hepatitis B: Should I get tested or vaccinated?

Certain groups of people have a higher risk of becoming infected with hepatitis B. But on the whole, less than 1 out of 100 people in Germany have a hepatitis B infection. Adults who have no special risk do not seem to have health benefits from doing a test or from having a vaccination.

Hepatitis B vaccine, hepatitis B immunoglobulin, and hepatitis B vaccine plus immunoglobulin prevent perinatal transmission of hepatitis B

Hepatitis B vaccination and hepatitis B immunoglobulin are considered as preventive measures for newborn infants of HBsAg positive mothers. When all the identified trials were combined, hepatitis B vaccine alone, hepatitis B immunoglobulin alone, and hepatitis B vaccine plus hepatitis B immunoglobulin reduced perinatal transmission of hepatitis B compared with placebo or no intervention. Hepatitis B vaccine plus hepatitis B immunoglobulin were superior to hepatitis B vaccination alone. Adverse events were rare and mostly non‐serious.

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More about Hepatitis B

Photo of an adult

Also called: Hep B, Hepatitis B viral infection

See Also: Hepatitis D

Other terms to know:
Acute, Chronic, Vertical Transmission (Perinatal Transmission)

Related articles:
Hepatitis B Vaccine

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