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Hepatitis B (HBV) is caused by a virus and results in chronic liver disease. There is no cure. Over 100,000 to 200,000 cases are reported annually. About 5000-6000 U.S. deaths occur each year from HBV infection that leads to liver disease.

If a person has contracted Hepatitis A or Hepatitis C, he/she can still get Hepatitis B.

HBV is spread by:

  • having sex with an infected person
  • direct contact with blood of an infected person

How to Protect Against HBV Infection

  • Avoid Sexual Contact with HBV-infected persons. Remember, you cannot tell by looking at people if they have STDs! In the case of Hepatitis, some people might exhibit yellow eyes/skin; but many people have no such symptoms. According to the CDC: "The efficacy of latex condoms in preventing infection with HBV is unknown, but their proper use may reduce transmission." Therefore, because you cannot usually see HBV symptoms, and because condoms still involve obvious risk, sexual abstinence is your only 100% certain way to eliminate the risk of Hepatitis.
  • Avoid any contact with drugs, needles, syringes, or other materials that may contain blood (could be contaminated with HBV)
  • Avoid sharing personal care items, such as razors or toothbrushes
  • Think very seriously about the health risks of tattoos or body piercing (it is crucial that needles/equipment be sterilized, that disposable gloves are used, and that the piercer/artist washes his/her hands properly)
  • Always handle needles and sharp instruments carefully in your workplace.

[excerpts from "Prevent Hepatitis B", HHS, CDC, 8/03]

 Hepatitis B

During 1990–2004, the number of acute hepatitis B cases reported annually declined 68% (1). This steady decline has coincided with the implementation of a national strategy to achieve the elimination of hepatitis B. The primary elements of this strategy are 1) screening of all pregnant women for hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection with the provision of postexposure prophylaxis to infants born to infected women; 2) routine vaccination of all infants and children aged <19 years; and 3) vaccination of others at increased risk for hepatitis B (e.g., health-care workers, men who have sex with men [MSM], injection-drug users [IDUs], and household and sex contacts of persons with chronic HBV infection).

In 2004, the rate among children aged <13 years, the cohort born since routine infant vaccination was implemented, was 0.07 per 100,000 population, representing a 94% decline for that age group since 1990. By race and ethnicity, the highest rates among children continue to be recorded among Asian/Pacific Islanders (API), followed by blacks, American Indians/Alaska Natives, and whites. Since 1990, however, the disparity between the population with the highest (API) and the lowest (whites) incidence has been reduced >90%. Evaluation of verified cases reported during 2001–2002 indicated that eight (42%) of the 19 cases that were followed up occurred among children born outside the United States; six (75%) of these eight children were international adoptees (2). Since 1990, rates among adolescents aged 14–18 years have also declined approximately 94%, but the 2004 rate (0.4 per 100,000 population) remains substantially higher than the rate for children aged <13 years.

During 1990–1999, rates among adults declined 63% but have since remained approximately unchanged. Among adults, a high proportion of cases occur among persons in identified risk groups (i.e. IDUs, MSM, and persons with multiple sex partners) indicating a need to strengthen efforts to reach these populations with vaccine.

CDC. Hepatitis B virus: a comprehensive strategy for eliminating transmission in the United States through universal childhood vaccination. MMWR 1991;40(No. RR-13).
CDC. Acute hepatitis B among children and adolescents—United States, 1990–2002. MMWR 2004;53:1015–8. [CDC, MMWR, June 16, 2006 / 53(53);1-79 Summary of Notifiable Diseases — United States, 2004]