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Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) infection screening

Hepatitis B is a serious liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). For some people, hepatitis B infection becomes chronic, meaning it lasts more than six months. Having chronic hepatitis B increases your risk of developing liver failure, liver cancer or cirrhosis — a condition that permanently scars of the liver.

Most adults with hepatitis B recover fully, even if their signs and symptoms are severe. Infants and children are more likely to develop a chronic (long-lasting) hepatitis B infection.

A vaccine can prevent hepatitis B. If you're infected, taking certain precautions can help prevent spreading the virus to others.

Who is at risk

People are more likely to get hepatitis B if they are born to a mother who has hepatitis B. The virus can spread from mother to child during birth. For this reason, people are more likely to have hepatitis B if they:

  • Were born in a part of the world where hepatitis B is more common.
  • Were born in the United States, didn’t receive the hepatitis B vaccine as an infant, and have parents who were born in an area where hepatitis B was especially common.

People are also more likely to have hepatitis B if they:

  • Are infected with HIV, because hepatitis B and HIV spread in similar ways.
  • Have lived with or had sex with someone who has hepatitis B.
  • Have had more than one sex partner in the last 6 months or have a history of sexually transmitted disease.
  • Are men who have sex with men.
  • Are injection drug users.
  • Work in a field, such as health care, in which they have contact with blood, needles, or body fluids at work.
  • Have lived in or travel often to parts of the world where hepatitis B is common.
  • Have been on kidney dialysis.
  • Are taking medicines that weaken the immune system, such as steroids or chemotherapy medicines.
  • Have worked or lived in a prison.
  • Had a blood transfusion or organ transplant before the mid-1980s.

Symptoms

Hepatitis B signs and symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine
  • Fever
  • Joint pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)

What you can do

Take precautions to avoid HBV:

  • Know the HBV status of any sexual partner. Don't engage in unprotected sex unless you're absolutely certain your partner isn't infected with HBV or any other sexually transmitted infection.
  • Use a new latex or polyurethane condom every time you have sex if you don't know the health status of your partner. Remember that although condoms can reduce your risk of contracting HBV, they don't eliminate the risk.
  • Don't use illegal drugs. If you use illicit drugs, get help to stop. Never share needles.
  • Be cautious about body piercing and tattooing. If you get a piercing or tattoo, look for a reputable shop. Ask about how the equipment is cleaned. Make sure the employees use sterile needles. If you can't get answers, look for another shop.
  • Ask about the hepatitis B vaccine.

Preventive service at no cost

Pregnant Women

The USPSTF recommends screening for hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection in pregnant women at their first prenatal visit.

Persons at High Risk for Infection

The USPSTF recommends screening for hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection in persons at high risk for infection.


Why screening is important

Many people who have hepatitis B don’t have symptoms and don’t know they have hepatitis B. Screening tests can help doctors diagnose and treat hepatitis B, which can lower your chances of developing serious health problems.

What the screening is

A blood test should be performed in each pregnancy, regardless of previous hepatitis B vaccination or previous negative HBsAg test results.

The CDC recommends screening followed by confirmatory test for positive screening results.

Treatment

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved 7 antiviral drugs for treatment of chronic HBV infection. Talk to your doctor about if any are appropriate for you.

Biopsy is sometimes done to determine the extent of liver inflammation and fibrosis.

Additional tips

  • Avoid alcohol and tobacco.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • See your liver specialist as recommended by your primary care doctor.

Resources