Hepatitis B (HBV, Hep B)

  • Medical Author:
    Mary D. Nettleman, MD, MS, MACP

    Mary D. Nettleman, MD, MS, MACP is the Chair of the Department of Medicine at Michigan State University. She is a graduate of Vanderbilt Medical School, and completed her residency in Internal Medicine and a fellowship in Infectious Diseases at Indiana University.

  • Medical Author: Mohamad El Mortada, MD
  • Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Quick GuideHepatitis C, Hep B, Hep A: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Hepatitis C, Hep B, Hep A: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

What can be done to prevent hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a preventable disease. Vaccination and post-exposure prophylaxis have significantly reduced rates of infection. Risk can also be reduced by avoiding unprotected sex, contaminated needles, and other sources of infection.

How effective is vaccination for hepatitis B?

The hepatitis B vaccine contains a protein (antigen) that stimulates the body to make protective antibodies. Examples of hepatitis B vaccines available in the United States include hepatitis B vaccine-injection (Engerix-B, Recombivax-HB). Three doses (given at 0, 1, and 6 months) are necessary to assure protection. There are also combination vaccines on the market that provide protection against hepatitis B and other diseases.

Examples include:

Hepatitis B vaccines are effective and safe. Up to 95% of vaccinated individuals form effective antibodies and are protected from hepatitis B when they get full three-dose series of vaccine. In healthcare workers, high-risk public safety workers, dialysis patients, and sexual partners of infected people, a blood test for antibodies is recommended after vaccination to ensure that the person produced antibodies. For the few who do not form antibodies, revaccination may improve response, especially in infants. However, a small proportion of individuals will never respond to hepatitis B vaccination. Side effects from the vaccine are usually mild and include soreness at the site of injection. The risk of serious allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) is less than one per million doses. Vaccination has reduced the number of new cases of hepatitis B by more than 75% in the United States.

In the United States, hepatitis B vaccination is recommended for all infants at birth. Older children and adolescents should receive the vaccine if they did not do so at birth.

Adults in high risk situations also are advised to receive hepatitis B vaccine. This includes:

  • health care workers
  • dentists
  • intimate and household contacts of patients with chronic hepatitis B infection
  • public safety workers who may be exposed to blood
  • men who have sex with men
  • individuals with multiple sexual partners
  • dialysis patients
  • injection drug users
  • people with chronic liver disease
  • residents and staff in institutions that care for people with developmental disabilities
  • people infected with HIV
  • people who require repeated transfusions or blood products.

Centers that serve high-risk individuals are encouraged to provide the vaccine to their clients. Such centers include dialysis units, drug treatment facilities, sexually transmitted diseases clinics and correctional facilities. Some countries have a high prevalence of hepatitis B in their population. Travelers who visit these countries for a prolonged period of time (usually six months) and those who may be exposed to blood or semen should consider vaccination.

How effective is hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG) in preventing hepatitis B?

HBIG is a product that contains antibodies against hepatitis B. When injected, it provides temporary protection against hepatitis B. HBIG is used when people have had significant exposure to the virus. An example would be an accidental needle stick in an unvaccinated health care worker from a needle contaminated with blood from a person with hepatitis B. HBIG should be given as soon as possible after exposure, preferably within seven days. People who need HBIG should also receive hepatitis B vaccine. HBIG also is given to patients with hepatitis B following liver transplantation to suppress the hepatitis B virus in the transplanted liver.

What is post-exposure immunoprophylaxis for hepatitis B virus?

Unvaccinated individuals who are exposed to a known case of hepatitis B or to a person at high risk for hepatitis B should be evaluated by a physician. Examples of such exposures include needle stick injuries in health care workers or sexual intercourse with an infected person. If the exposure is significant, the physician will recommend vaccination and also may recommend an injection of hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG). HBIG is prepared from the plasma of blood donors and contains antibodies to hepatitis B. Vaccination and HBIG can substantially reduce the risk of disease in people exposed to hepatitis B if given within one week of a needle stick or two weeks of sexual intercourse.

Vaccination provides long-term immunity in people who respond to the vaccine. There is no need for HBIG if an exposure occurs to a vaccinated person who is known to respond to the vaccine; however, a blood test might be drawn to verify that the person did respond to the vaccine.

How is transmission of hepatitis B virus from mother to newborn infant prevented?

Infected mothers can pass hepatitis B to their newborn infants. All pregnant women should have blood tested to determine if they are infected. Infants born to infected mothers should receive HBIG and hepatitis B vaccine at birth. This is 85% to 95% effective in eliminating the risk of hepatitis B in the infant.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/29/2016

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