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Frequently Asked Questions

General Information: FAQ

What is hepatitis B?

How many people are affected by hepatitis B?

Why is hepatitis B so dangerous?

What is "acute" hepatitis B?

What is "chronic" hepatitis B?

Is there a cure for hepatitis B?

What is hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is the world's most common liver infection. It is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV), which attacks and injures the liver. It is transmitted through blood, unprotected sex, shared or re-used needles, and from an infected mother to her newborn baby during delivery. Most infected adults are able to get rid of the hepatitis B virus without any problems. However, some adults and most infected babies and children are unable to get rid of the virus and will develop chronic infections.

The good news is that there is a safe vaccine to prevent a hepatitis B infection and new treatments for those already infected with hepatitis B.

How many people are affected by hepatitis B?
Worldwide, 2 billion people (1 out of 3 people) have been infected with hepatitis B.  240 million people have become chronically infected (which means they are unable to get rid of the virus).  An estimated 1 million people die each year from hepatitis B and its complications.

In the United States, over 12 million people have been infected (that’s 1 out of 20 people).  An estimated 40,000 people will become infected with hepatitis B each year. Thousands of Americans die each year from hepatitis B and its complications.

Why is hepatitis B so dangerous?
Hepatitis B is dangerous because it is a “silent infection” that can infect people without them knowing it. Most people who are infected with hepatitis B are unaware of their infection and can unknowingly pass the virus to others through their blood and infected bodily fluids. For those who become chronically infected, there is an increased risk of developing serious liver disease later in life. The virus can quietly and continuously attack the liver over many years without being detected. 

What is acute hepatitis B?
A hepatitis B infection is considered to be "acute" from the time of exposure until 6 months afterward.  This is the typical amount of time it takes for a healthy adult to successfully clear a hepatitis B infection and develop the protective antibodies. During an acute infection, a person is contagious and able to pass the virus on to others.

90% of healthy adults are able to "recover" by getting rid of the virus, which is confirmed by a blood test. Once a person has recovered, they are no longer contagious and are immune to future hepatitis B infections. 

What is chronic hepatitis B?
A person is diagnosed with chronic hepatitis B if they test positive for the hepatitis B virus for longer than 6 months.  A chronic hepatitis B infection may stay with the person for a lifetime. About 10% of adults who contract hepatitis B will develop chronic hepatitis B.

Is there a cure for hepatitis B?
For an "acute" infection, there is generally no treatment other than rest and supportive measures to manage any symptoms. For "chronic" hepatitis B, there are several approved drugs in the US:
Intron A, Pegasys, Epivir-HBV, Hepsera, Baraclude, Tyzeka and Viread. These drugs slow down the virus and reduce potential liver damage.  In rare cases, they may even get rid of the virus completely. For a complete list of other promising drugs in development for hepatitis B, visit our Drug Watch.


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