Hepatitis B (HBV) is a virus that causes inflammation of the liver. It can be experienced as an “acute” infection causing mild illness for a few weeks or months or as a more serious “chronic” infection lasting a lifetime. A chronic HBV infection can cause complications such as cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and even lead to liver cancer.

1. Hepatitis b is more common than you know

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that as many as 2.2 million people in the U.S. are living with a chronic case of hepatitis B.

2. It can be transmitted through sexual contact

Hepatitis B is transmitted through contact with infected bodily fluids such as semen, vaginal secretions, and blood. It is most often transmitted through sexual contact but can also be contracted when drug users share needles and other injecting equipment. Mothers with HBV can also pass the virus on to their infants during birth.

3. Most individuals don’t know they have it

Surprisingly, adults often have few - if any- symptoms. When they occur, symptoms can be mistaken for the flu (nausea and vomiting, malaise, loss of appetite and abdominal pain). Some people with hepatitis B also experience jaundice, which is a yellowing of the eyes or skin.

4. The only way to know is to get tested

Ask your health care provider if a test for HBV or other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are right for you. Special blood tests are used to detect either HBV particles or antibodies (proteins in the blood your body produces to fight infections). Blood tests can also determine if someone with hepatitis B has an acute or chronic infection. 

5. You can also prevent an infection

To prevent an infection, use male or female condoms (sometimes called external or internal condoms) each time you have sex.  While they don’t provide 100 percent protection against hepatitis B and other STIs, when used consistently and correctly, they are one of the best ways to reduce your risk of getting hepatitis B and other STIs. Those sharing households with someone diagnosed with HBV could also come in contact with infected blood or other body fluids directly or indirectly by using objects such as needles, razors, and toothbrushes.

However, there is a vaccine that can help prevent hepatitis B. CDC recommends these vaccinations specifically for sex partners, anyone who is sexually active but not in a long-term or monogamous relationship, those previously treated for STD/STIs and men who have sex with men. Others may benefit from the vaccination against HBV as well so make sure to ask your health care provider what they recommended for you.