Hep B Ribbon

What is Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a disease which affects the liver, and is caused upon contraction of the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Its main danger lies in how easily it can be spread. In comparison to HIV, the hepatitis B virus is much more contagious. However, infection by HBV can be avoided with proper vaccination.


Hepatitis B is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). It is highly contagious, and it is transmitted via infected blood or other body fluids, including semen and vaginal fluids. The most common ways of infection include: unprotected sexual intercourse, needle­-sharing, and passage of the virus from a mother to her baby during childbirth. Transmission can also occur through sharing of personal hygiene items such as razors, scissors, nail clippers, or toothbrushes. HBV is not spread by activities such as kissing (unless one comes into contact with an infected person’s blood in their saliva), shaking hands, hugging, or even close proximity to an infected person who is sneezing or coughing. Moreover, breastfeeding does not spread the virus, except in the case that the nipple is bleeding or cracked.


One danger of having hepatitis B is that in approximately 50% of infected people, symptoms do not appear in the early stages. By the time they do develop, the liver has already undergone significant damage. In order to help prevent this, it is advised to undergo a simple blood test early if there is a chance infection has occurred. In many cases, babies and children exposed to the virus never show symptoms, and they are not able to fight off the virus, resulting in them growing up to be carriers for hepatitis B. The other half of the time in which signs do appear, possible symptoms may include: fatigue, vomiting, dizziness, reduced appetite, dark urine, pale feces, stomach pain, joint pain, and jaundice.


There are two types of hepatitis B: acute and chronic. The treatments for both types differ. Acute hepatitis B is when a person first becomes infected with HBV. The severity of the symptoms vary widely; an infected person may become severely ill, or they may not experience any symptoms at all. Most adults’ immune systems are able to clear the virus and recuperate. However, in the case that the virus stays in the blood even after six months has passed, the condition is considered to have become chronic. For acute hepatitis B, an injection of hepatitis B immune globulin may prevent a person from developing the disease, if received within seven days of the infection. In the case of chronic hepatitis B, an infected individual has two options for treatment: interferon, a medication injected using a needle, or antiviral, medicines which can simply be swallowed. Unfortunately, these treatments are not a cure. Instead, they help restrain the virus, inhibiting additional damage to the liver.


In Canada, less than 1% of people are infected with HBV. Children who are infected before reaching seven years of age have a higher risk of developing chronic hepatitis B infection. In 2011, the Canadian government reported 0.6 cases of acute hepatitis B infection per 100,000 people in Canada.