HEPATITIS B

Hepatitis B is a serious liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Hepatitis B is contracted through sexual contact and coming in contact with infected blood.  There is no cure for Hepatitis B. If you're infected, taking certain precautions can help prevent spreading the virus to others.

The symptoms of Hepatitis B range from mild to severe. They usually appear about one to four months after you've been infected, although you could see them as early as two weeks post-infection. Some people, typically young children, may not have any symptoms.

The Hepatitis B virus was discovered in 1965 by Dr. Baruch Blumberg, who won the Nobel Prize for his discovery. Initially, the virus was called the "Australia Antigen," named for an Australian aborigine's blood sample that reacted with an antibody in the serum of an American hemophilia patient.

Working with Dr. Blumberg, microbiologist Irving Millman helped develop a blood test for the Hepatitis B virus. Blood banks began using the test in 1971 to screen blood donations, and the risk of Hepatitis B infections from a blood transfusion decreased by 25 percent. Four years after discovering the Hepatitis B virus, Drs. Blumberg and Millman developed the first Hepatitis B vaccine, which was initially a heat-treated form of the virus. 

In 1986, the research resulted in the second generation of genetically engineered (or DNA recombinant) Hepatitis B vaccines. These newly approved vaccines are synthetically prepared and do not contain blood products - it is impossible to get Hepatitis B from the new recombinant vaccines currently approved in the United States.

Hepatitis B vaccine is usually given as 2, 3, or 4 shots. Infants should get their first dose of Hepatitis B vaccine at birth and will usually complete the series at 6 months of age (sometimes it will take longer than 6 months to complete the series).

Children and adolescents (younger than 19 years of age) who have not yet gotten the vaccine should also be vaccinated.

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)

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Hepatitis B is a short-term illness for some people, but for others, it can become a long-term, chronic infection that might not have symptoms. The risk for chronic infection is related to the age at infection: approximately 90% of infected infants become chronically infected, compared with 2%–6% of adults. Chronic Hepatitis B can lead to serious health issues, like cirrhosis or liver cancer.