Hepatitis B guide

What is Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a sexually transmitted disease that inflames the liver, and it's a global health problem...it's estimated that there are more than 350 million carriers of the hepatitis B virus (HBV) worldwide, and more than 600,000 people die from HBV-related liver disease every year.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 1.4 million people in the United States are chronically infected and there are some 43,000 new cases of HBV infection every year.

Hepatitis B is easily transmitted through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex when the blood, saliva, semen or vaginal secretions of an infected partner enter the body. Although rare, you can also get hepatitis B infection from blood transfusions, or by sharing needles, syringes, razorblades or toothbrushes that are contaminated. Additionally, infected mothers run the risk of passing hepatitis B to their babies during childbirth.

While hepatitis B is not curable, there is a vaccine to prevent the disease which is routinely given to children. The good news is that most adults infected with the virus fully recover with antiviral medications...sometimes, it even clears out of the body without treatment. Chronic cases can result in severe liver damage (cirrhosis), liver cancer...even death. Learn more about the difference between acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) hepatitis B infections.

The earlier hepatitis B is diagnosed, the more successfully it can be treated.


Last reviewed by Lisa Oldson, MD, January 2011.

Lisa Oldson, MD

STD expert

"The first thing I tell a patient about STDs is that if you're worried about one STD, you should probably worry about all STDs. In other words, if you had unprotected sex and you're worried about a possible HIV exposure, it's important to understand that hepatitis can be spread in the same fashion...ditto for chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes and syphilis."