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Acute Hepatitis B

An acute infection may last up to six months (with or without symptoms) and infected persons are able to pass the virus to others during this stage. A patient will test positive for the hepatitis B virus (HBsAg+), HBc-IgM, and possibly the HBe-antigen. Safe sex practices and vaccination of close household members should be recommended.

Symptoms of an acute infection may include loss of appetite, myalgia, nausea, low-grade fever, and possible abdominal pain. Although most people do not experience symptoms, they can appear 45 to 180 days after the virus enters the body. Some people may experience more severe symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or jaundice (i.e. yellowing of the eyes and skin) that will require immediate medical attention. 

A small number of people have symptoms that last for months. They may have signs of abnormal liver function before they completely recover from the acute infection. Most infected persons do not require hospitalization, although some may require close medical attention.

Treatment of acute hepatitis B is generally supportive, which may or may not require hospitalization. Rest and managing symptoms are the primary goals of therapy. Additional follow-up blood tests are needed to confirm recovery from an acute infection or progression to a chronic infection.

Page last reviewed March 2014

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