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Hepatitis B (HBV)

Sexually Transmitted Disease Facts

Type of Infection: Hepatitis B is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV).

Prevalence of Hepatitis B: In the United States, an estimated 120,000 infections are sexually transmitted per year. HBV infection leads to an estimated 6,000 deaths annually. These deaths result from liver failure due to the virus.

Mode of Transmission for Hepatitis B: Vaginal, oral and especially anal sex; sharing contaminated drug needles; piercing the skin with contaminated instruments such as those used in dental and medical procedures; and receiving contaminated blood or blood products through transfusions. HBV can survive outside the body for a week and still be capable of causing infection.


Who is at high risk for Hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection?

  • Sex partners of infected persons
  • People who have had more than one sex partner during the previous 6 months
  • Men who have sex with men
  • Injection drug users
  • Household members of people with chronic HBV infection
  • Healthcare and public safety workers at risk for exposure to blood and body fluids
  • Dialysis patients
  • Travelers to countries with high rates of HBV infection
  • Infants born to infected mothers

Symptoms of Hepatitis B: About one-third of people with HBV have no symptoms. When symptoms are present they include fever, headache, muscle aches, fatigue, loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhea. Symptoms of liver problems include dark urine, abdominal pain, yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes.

Treatment for Hepatitis B: There is no known cure. Most infections clear up by themselves within 4-8 weeks, but some people become chronically infected.

Possible Consequences of Hepatitis B for the Infected Person: For those individuals who are chronically infected, the disease can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer, immune system disorders, and death.

Possible Consequences of Hepatitis B for the Fetus and Newborn: Pregnant women can transmit the disease to their unborn children. Some 90% of infants infected at birth become chronic carriers and are at risk of liver disease and liver cancer. They are also capable of transmitting the virus. Infants of infected mothers can be given immunoglobulin and vaccinated at birth, potentially eliminating the risk of chronic infection.

Prevention of Hepatitis B: Abstaining from sex with an infected person, especially anal sex, where body fluids, blood, semen or vaginal secretions are likely to be exchanged, is the only 100% effective means of preventing the sexual transmission of Hepatitis B. Latex condoms can reduce but not eliminate the risk of contracting the disease during sex. Avoid illicit IV drug use and sharing drug needles. Discuss with health care providers precautions to avoid transmission of Hepatitis B, especially when receiving blood products or blood transfusions. A vaccine is available and is recommended for those at risk of contracting HBV (see box above). Additionally, the vaccine has been added to the routine pediatric immunization schedule recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Source of Information: W Cates, "Reproductive Tract Infections," In Hatcher et al, Contraceptive Technology, Ardent Media, 2005.
Source of Photos: Centers for Disease Control, Public Health Image Library (PHIL), phil.cdc.gov/phil. Anthony Demetris, MD Director, Division of Transplantation Pathology, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, www.vaccineinformation.org.