Hepatitis B Questions and Answers


What is Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is a liver infection. It is caused by the hepatitis B virus. For some people who get hepatitis B, the virus stays in the body, causing a lifelong illness. Hepatitis B can cause serious health problems over time. These problems can include liver cancer and liver failure.

How common is Hepatitis B among Asian Americans?
In the United States, hepatitis B is very common among Asian Americans. Even though Asian Americans make up 6% of the US population, they account for up to 60% of Americans living with hepatitis B.

Why do Asian Americans have such high rates of hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is very common in many parts of the world, including Asia. An estimated 300 million people are living with hepatitis B worldwide and approximately 2 million people in the United States have chronic hepatitis B. Because hepatitis B is so common, it is easy for many people born in Asia to come into contact with the hepatitis B virus. Although anyone can get hepatitis B, some people are at greater risk, such as those who live with a person who has hepatitis B or are born to infected mothers.


How is hepatitis B spread?
Hepatitis B is spread when blood or other body fluid infected with the hepatitis B virus enters the body of a person who is not infected. This can happen through multiple ways, including getting Hepatitis B from an infected mother at birth or from a family member as a young child. Many Asian Americans living with Hepatitis B became infected as infants or young children.

Can a person spread hepatitis B and not know it?
Yes. Many people with hepatitis B infection do not know they are infected since they do not feel or look sick. However, they still can spread the virus to others and are at risk of serious health problems themselves.

What are ways hepatitis B is not spread?
Hepatitis B is not spread through sharing meals, bowls or utensils with someone who has the virus. It is also not spread by breastfeeding, hugging, kissing, holding hands, coughing, or sneezing.


What are the symptoms of hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B does not always cause symptoms. Many people can live with hepatitis B for decades without feeling sick. If and when symptoms do occur, they can include fever, feeling tired, not wanting to eat, stomach pain, upset stomach, throwing up, dark urine, light-colored stool, joint pain, and yellow skin or eyes.

How serious is hepatitis B?
When hepatitis B is a lifelong infection, it can become very serious with long-term health problems. About 1 in 4 people with chronic hepatitis B develop serious liver conditions including liver damage, liver failure, or even liver cancer. Hepatitis B is the leading cause of liver cancer among Asian Americans.


How do people know if they have hepatitis B?
A hepatitis B test is the only way for people to know if they are infected. Nearly 2 out of 3 people with hepatitis B do not know they have it.

Who should get tested for hepatitis B?

  • People born in Asia
  • People whose parents were born in most parts of Asia. People who live with someone who has hepatitis B

Why should people get tested for hepatitis B if they don’t feel sick?
Even though most people with hepatitis B don’t feel sick, liver damage can still occur. Getting tested helps people access medical treatments that can save their lives. Lifesaving treatments are available to slow down or prevent liver damage, so getting tested helps people access needed medical treatment.

How does getting tested help protect family members?
People who get tested for hepatitis B and find out that they are infected can help protect their family members by encouraging them to get tested for hepatitis B. People who have never been infected with hepatitis B can get a safe, effective vaccine to protect them from getting the infected. The vaccine is currently recommended for all children and people at risk, including family members of people with hepatitis B. However, adults should get tested first to determine if they have ever had hepatitis B and if they will benefit from getting the vaccine.


How is hepatitis B treated?
People with hepatitis B should be monitored regularly by a doctor experienced in caring for people with hepatitis B. This can include some internists or family medicine practitioners, as well as specialists such as infectious disease physicians, gastroenterologists, or hepatologists (liver specialists). Doctors can monitor for signs of liver disease and prescribe needed treatments.

Several medications are available for hepatitis B treatment. However, not every person with chronic hepatitis B needs to be on medication, and the drugs may cause side effects in some patients.

What else can people with hepatitis B do to take care of their liver?
People with hepatitis B should avoid alcohol because it can cause additional liver damage. They also should check with a health professional before taking any prescription pills, supplements, or over-the-counter medications, as these can potentially damage the liver.

For even more questions and answers on hepatitis B, please visit: http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/B/bFAQ.htm