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Hepatitis B (HBV)

What Is It?
Hepatitis (pronounced: hep-uh-tie-tiss) is a disease of the liver. It is usually caused by a virus, although it can also be caused by long-term overuse of alcohol or other toxins (poisons).

Although there are several different types of hepatitis, hepatitis B is a type that can move from one person to another through blood and other bodily fluids. It can be transmitted through sexual intercourse and through needles - such as those shared by intravenous drug or steroid users who have the virus, or tattoo needles that haven't been properly sterilized. A pregnant woman can also pass hepatitis B to her unborn baby. You cannot catch hepatitis B from an object, such as a toilet seat.

How Does a Girl Know She Has It?
A girl with hepatitis B may feel symptoms similar to those caused by other viral infections, such as the flu. For example, she may feel tired, nauseous, and lose her appetite. She may be nauseated or have a mild fever, or she may experience vomiting, abdominal pain, or pain underneath her right ribcage where the liver is.

Hepatitis B can also cause jaundice, which is a yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes, and may cause the urine to appear brownish.

How Does a Guy Know He Has It?
A guy with hepatitis B will have the same symptoms as a girl with hepatitis B.

How Long Until You See the Symptoms?
A person who has been exposed to hepatitis B may have symptoms 1 to 5 months later. Some people with hepatitis B don't notice symptoms until they become quite severe. Some people have few or no symptoms. Even when a person with hepatitis B doesn't notice any symptoms, though, he or she can still transmit the disease to others. Some people carry the virus in their bodies and are contagious for the rest of their lives.

What Can Happen?
Hepatitis B can be very dangerous to a person's health, leading to liver damage and an increased risk of liver cancer. Ninety percent of babies born to women who have the hepatitis B virus will have the virus unless they receive special immune injections and the first dose of vaccine at birth.

How Is It Prevented?
Because hepatitis B can easily be transmitted through blood and most body fluids, it can be prevented by:

  • abstaining from sex (not having oral, vaginal, or anal sex)
  • always using latex condoms for all types of sexual intercourse
  • avoiding contact with an infected person's blood
  • never sharing needles

Tattoo parlors sometimes reuse needles without properly sterilizing them, so be sure to research and choose tattoo and piercing providers carefully.

To help prevent the spread of hepatitis B, health care professionals wear gloves at all times when in contact with blood or body fluids, and are usually required to be immunized against the hepatitis B virus.

There is an immunization (vaccine) against hepatitis B. The immunization is given as a series of 3 shots over a 6-month period. Newborn babies in the United States now routinely receive this immunization series. Teens who see their health care provider for yearly exams are also likely to be given the hepatitis B immunization. Immunization programs have been responsible for a significant drop in the number of cases of hepatitis B among teens over the past 10 years.

Sometimes, if a person has been recently exposed to the hepatitis B virus, a doctor may recommend a shot of immune globulin containing antibiotics against the virus to try to prevent the person from coming down with the disease. For this reason, it's especially important to see a doctor quickly after any possible exposure to the virus.

How Is It Treated?
If you think you may have hepatitis B or if you have had a partner who may have hepatitis B, you need to see your doctor or gynecologist. He or she will do blood tests. If a diagnosis of hepatitis B is made you will need to rest. You may also be treated with drugs such as lamivudine and interferon, or adefovir or other antiviral drugs. Some people may need to be hospitalized for a little while if they are too sick to eat or drink. Most people with hepatitis B recover within 6 months.

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