People living with chronic hepatitis B infection should expect to live a long and healthy life. There are decisions people can make to protect their livers such as seeing a liver specialist or health care provider regularly, avoiding alcohol and tobacco, and eating healthy foods. There are also approved drugs for both adults and children that control the hepatitis B virus, which helps reduce the risk of developing more serious liver disease, but there is still no complete cure.
Current treatments for hepatitis B fall into two general categories:
- Immune modulator Drugs – These are interferon-type drugs that boost the immune system to help get rid of the hepatitis B virus. They are given as a shot (similar to how insulin is given to people with diabetes) over 6 months to 1 year.
- Antiviral Drugs – These are drugs that stop or slow down the hepatitis B virus from reproducing, which reduces the inflammation and damage of your liver. These are taken as a pill once a day for at least 1 year and usually longer.
It is important to know that not everyone with chronic hepatitis B infection needs to be treated. This can be difficult to accept when first diagnosed because taking a drug to get rid of the virus seems like the first step to getting better. Current treatments, however, are generally found to be most effective in those who show signs of active liver disease (e.g. through a physical exam, blood tests and imaging studies such as an ultrasound).
So talk to your health care provider about whether you are a good candidate for any of the approved drugs. In addition, ask your provider if they participate in any clinical trials that are testing several new hepatitis B drugs. Learn more about Hepatitis B Clinical Trials.
Whether you start treatment or not, it is very important to be regularly seen by a liver specialist or a health care provider who is knowledgeable about hepatitis B. The standard recommendation is every 6 months, but some people may be checked more often or even just once a year. During these check-up visits, your provider will monitor your health through a physical exam, blood tests and imaging studies (such as an ultrasound, FibroScan [Transient Elastography] or CT scan). The goal of these check-ups is to make sure that you are staying healthy and to detect any liver problems as early as possible.
Hepatitis B Drug Watch
The Hepatitis B Foundation created the HBF Drug Watch to keep track of approved and promising new treatments. In 1991, “interferon alpha” was the first drug approved for hepatitis B and given as a series of injections over 1 year. In 1998, “lamivudine” was approved as the first oral antiviral drug taken once a day.
There are now 7 approved drugs for hepatitis B in the United States -- 2 types of injectable interferons and 5 oral antivirals – that control the hepatitis B virus. A cure, however, may be in the near future because there is exciting research being done today to generate promising new drugs. These new drugs all work differently than the approved treatments, so a possible cure could include a combination of the old and new drugs. Several of the new drugs are already being tested in people. Learn more about HBV Clinical Trials.
Visit the HBF Drug Watch for a complete list of the approved treatments for hepatitis B and promising new drugs in development.