Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a sexually transmitted disease (also called STD). An STD is an infection you can get from having sex with someone who is infected. You can get an STD from vaginal, anal or oral sex.

Hepatitis B is caused by the hepatitis B virus. You can get the virus by having sex with someone who has it. You also can get it if you share needles with someone who has the virus. About 43,000 people in the United States get hepatitis B each year.

Hepatitis B can lead to chronic (long-lasting) hepatitis B infection. This happens when your body can’t fight the infection and clear it from your body. Chronic hepatitis B infection increases your risk for severe liver disease or liver cancer. If hepatitis B causes severe liver damage, you may need a liver transplant.

If it’s not treated, you can pass hepatitis B to your baby at birth. About 9 out of 10 babies who are infected at birth develop a long-term health condition called chronic hepatitis B infection.

How do you know if you have hepatitis B?

Signs and symptoms of hepatitis B can range from mild to severe. Some people with hepatitis B have no symptoms at all. You may have hepatitis B if you have:

  • Dark urine
  • Fatigue (feeling very tired)
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • Low fever
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Upper belly pain

If you think you may have hepatitis B, tell your health care provider. If you’re pregnant, your health provider checks you for hepatitis B with a blood test at an early prenatal checkup.

How is hepatitis B treated?

Most people with hepatitis B get better and may not need treatment. But if you have chronic hepatitis B infection, you may need treatment with antivirals. Antivirals are medicines that kill infections caused by viruses. Babies and children are much more likely than adults to get chronic hepatitis B infection.

If you have hepatitis B during pregnancy, you can pass it to your baby during labor and birth. Your baby’s treatment may include: 

  • Hepatitis B vaccine within 12 hours of birth, and two more doses in the first 6 months of life
  • Hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG) shot (injection) within 12 hours of birth. This shot can help fight off hepatitis B.

How can you protect yourself from hepatitis B?

You may be more likely than others to get hepatitis B if you’re a: 

  • Health care worker
  • Public safety worker
  • Woman living with an infected partner

Here’s how to help protect yourself from hepatitis B:

  • Get vaccinated. Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself against hepatitis B. It’s safe to get the vaccine during pregnancy. You can get it before or during pregnancy if you’re at high risk of hepatitis B.
  • Get tested and treated. If you find out you have hepatitis B, get treatment right away.
  • Don’t have sex. This is the best way to prevent yourself from getting an STD, including hepatitis B.
  • If you have sex, have sex with only one person who doesn’t have other sex partners. Use a condom if you’re not sure if your partner has an STD. Ask your partner to get tested and treated for STDs.
  • If you use street drugs, don’t share needles.
  • Don’t share personal care items (like razors and toothbrushes) that may have someone else’s blood or saliva on them.

Last reviewed May 2013

Most common questions

What is mononucleosis?

Mononucleosis (also called mono) is an infection usually caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). It’s sometimes caused by another virus called cytomegalovirus (CMV). EBV and CMV are part of the herpes virus family. Mono is most common in teenagers and young adults, but anyone can get it. Mono is called the “kissing disease” because it’s usually passed from one person to another through saliva. In addition to kissing, it can also be passed through sneezing, coughing or sharing pillows, drinks, straws, and toothbrushes.

You can have mono without having any symptoms. But even if you don’t get sick, you can still pass it to others. Symptoms can include:

  • Achy muscles
  • Belly pain
  • Fatigue (feeling tired all the time)
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen glands in your neck

If your symptoms don’t go away or get worse, tell your health care provider. He’ll most likely do a physical exam and test your blood to find out for sure if you have mono.

There’s no vaccine to prevent mono. There’s also no specific treatment. The best care is to take it easy and get as much rest as you can. It may take a few weeks before you fully recover.

Can Rh factor affect my baby?

The Rh factor may be a problem if mom is Rh-negative but dad is Rh-positive. If dad is Rh-negative, there is no risk.

If your baby gets her Rh-positive factor from dad, your body may believe that your baby's red blood cells are foreign elements attacking you. Your body may make antibodies to fight them. This is called sensitization.

If you're Rh-negative, you can get shots of Rh immune globulin (RhIg) to stop your body from attacking your baby. It's best to get these shots at 28 weeks of pregnancy and again within 72 hours of giving birth if a blood test shows that your baby is Rh-positive. You won't need anymore shots after giving birth if your baby is Rh-negative. You should also get a shot after certain pregnancy exams like an amniocentesis, a chorionic villus sampling or an external cephalic version (when your provider tries to turn a breech-position baby head down before labor). You'll also want to get the shot if you have a miscarriage, an ectopic pregnancy or suffer abdominal trauma.

I had a miscarriage. How long should I wait to try again?

Before getting pregnant again, it's important that you are ready both physically and emotionally. If you don't need tests or treatments to discover the cause of the miscarriage, it's usually OK for you to become pregnant after one normal menstrual cycle. However, it may take longer for you to feel emotionally ready to be pregnant again. Everyone responds differently to a miscarriage. Only you will know when you are ready to try to get pregnant again.

Are gallstones common during pregnancy?

Not common, but they do happen. Elevated hormones during pregnancy can cause the gallbladder to function more slowly, less efficiently. The gallbladder stores and releases bile, a substance produced in the liver. Bile helps digest fat. When bile sits in the gallbladder for too long, hard, solid nuggets called gallstones can form. The stones can block the flow of bile, causing indigestion and sometimes serious pain. Staying at a healthy weight during pregnancy can help lower your risk of gallstones. Exercise and eating foods that are low in fat and high in fiber, like veggies, fruits and whole grains, can help, too. Symptoms of gallstones include nausea, vomiting and intense, continuous abdominal pain. Treatment during pregnancy may include surgery to remove the gallbladder. Gallstones in the third trimester can be managed with a strict meal plan and pain medication, followed by surgery several weeks after delivery.

©2013 March of Dimes Foundation. The March of Dimes is a non-profit organization recognized as tax-exempt under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3).