Hepatitis B | Liver Disease

Liver Disease

Hepatitis B

Chronic hepatitis B infection can cause liver damage and liver cancer. A vaccine can prevent the disease. But if you get sick with the hepatitis B virus, our liver disease experts offer the latest treatments to minimize liver damage.

Medically reviewed by Lydia Aye, D.O. on Nov. 28, 2023.

Female health care provider sitting at a desk talking to a patient

What Is Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is the world’s most common liver infection and the main cause of liver cancer. It’s a type of viral hepatitis that inflames and damages your liver.

Hepatitis B may be:

  • Acute: A new infection may improve on its own. It rarely causes symptoms.
  • Chronic: The viral infection lasts for more than six months and may cause symptoms.

A vaccine can keep your family safe from the virus that causes hepatitis B. But if you or your child get sick, liver specialists (hepatologists) at the UC Davis Health Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology offer the latest treatments to protect your liver.


Hepatitis B Symptoms

Hepatitis B doesn’t always cause symptoms. It’s called a “silent infection” because many people don’t know they have it. You can still spread the virus even when you don’t have symptoms.

Common Symptoms

Hepatitis B symptoms may be mild or severe. They include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark, tea-colored urine
  • Fatigue and fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mild nausea and vomiting
  • Muscle or joint pain

Emergency Symptoms

About 1% of people develop a potentially life-threatening condition called fulminant hepatitis. This condition causes sudden liver failure. Seek immediate care if you experience:

  • Bleeding and bruising easily and without cause
  • Extreme nausea and vomiting
  • Unexplained severe abdominal pain
  • Yellow tint to the eyes and skin (jaundice)

Hepatitis B Causes and Risk Factors

The hepatitis B virus (HBV) causes hepatitis B, a type of viral infection. HBV spreads through blood and sexual fluids. It doesn’t spread through saliva.

Certain factors increase your risk for hepatitis B, including:

Contaminated Needles

Healthcare workers accidentally stuck by needles, and people with substance use disorders who share needles, are more at risk for infection.

Pregnancy and Childbirth

A baby may get hepatitis B while in the womb or during childbirth if their mother has it.

Sharing Personal Hygiene Items

Sharing razors, toothbrushes or nail clippers with someone who is infected puts you at risk.

Unprotected Sex

Unprotected sex and sex with multiple partners increase your risk. Men who have sex with men, as well as people who have sexually transmitted infections or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), have a higher risk.

Unsterilized Equipment

The virus can spread through equipment that has not been sterilized, or cleaned of all bacteria. This may include medical devices or nail salon tools. Unsterilized acupuncture, tattoo and piercing needles pose a significant risk.


Diagnosis and Testing for Hepatitis B

A blood test can detect HBV, the virus that causes hepatitis B.

Blood tests can also show:

  • If the infection is acute (new) or chronic
  • Immunity to the virus from vaccination or earlier exposure
  • How well your liver is functioning

Treatments for Hepatitis B

Not everyone with hepatitis B needs treatment. Acute hepatitis B symptoms in adults often improve with rest and fluids. If chronic hepatitis B causes liver damage or severe symptoms, your provider may recommend treatment.

Lifestyle Changes

To prevent additional liver damage, you shouldn’t drink alcohol or take medications or supplements without your provider’s OK. You should also take steps to keep your cholesterol levels in a healthy range.


Antiviral medications can control the virus and slow liver damage. You may need to take this oral drug every day for at least a year or possibly for life. There is also an injectable medication to help your immune system fight the virus.


Chronic hepatitis B that causes significant liver damage or cancer may require surgery. Providers remove the diseased part of your liver. Your liver can regenerate or grow back. We offer expert surgical care for liver cancer.


Preventing Hepatitis B

The hepatitis B vaccine is the best way to protect your family from the virus that causes this liver infection. The vaccine is available for all ages. You receive three vaccinations over six months. You can also take steps to lower your infection risk.

Get Prophylactic Treatment

Unvaccinated people who are exposed to the virus may lower their risk of infection by getting a dose of the hepatitis B vaccine along with a medicine called hepatitis B immune globulin. For the most effective response, you should get these medications within 24 hours of exposure.

Practice Good Hygiene

Don’t share items like toothbrushes and razors. To ensure tattoo needles and nail salon tools are new or sterilized, only go to licensed (regulated) facilities.

Wear Protection

Wear latex or rubber gloves if you must have direct contact with someone else’s open wound. Also, wear condoms during sex.

“Acute vs. Chronic Hepatitis B,” The Hepatitis B Foundation, https://www.hepb.org/what-is-hepatitis-b/what-is-hepb/acute-vs-chronic/.

“Why Is Hepatitis B So Dangerous?” The Hepatitis B Foundation, https://www.hepb.org/what-is-hepatitis-b/faqs/why-is-hepatitis-so-dangerous/.

“Hepatitis B Symptoms,” The Hepatitis B Foundation, https://www.hepb.org/what-is-hepatitis-b/what-is-hepb/symptoms/.

Who does it affect?

1 in 3People worldwide have hepatitis B

Annual Deaths

820KPeople worldwide die from hepatitis B and related complications

Source: Hepatitis B Foundation: Hepatitis B Facts and Figures

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