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What is Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a serious disease that affects the liver. It is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). HBV can cause:

  1. Acute (short-term) illness. This can lead to: • loss of appetite• diarrhea and vomiting • tiredness• jaundice (yellow skin or eyes) • pain in muscles, joints, and stomach
  2. Acute illness is more common among adults. Children who become infected usually do not have acute illness.
  3. Chronic (long-term) infection. Some people go on to develop chronic HBV infection. This can be very serious, and often leads to: •liver damage (cirrhosis)•liver cancer•death

Hepatitis B vaccine can prevent hepatitis B, and the serious consequences of HBV infection, including liver cancer and cirrhosis.

Routine hepatitis B vaccination of U.S. children began in 1991. Since then, the reported incidence of acute hepatitis B among children and adolescents has dropped by more than 95% – and by 75% in all age groups.

Hepatitis B vaccine is made from a part of the hepatitis B virus. It cannot cause HBV infection.

Hepatitis B vaccine is usually given as a series of 3 or 4 shots. This vaccine series gives long-term protection from HBV infection, possibly lifelong.

Who should get hepatitis B vaccine and when?

  • In 2005, about 51,000 people became infected with hepatitis B.
  • About 1.25 million people in the United States have chronic HBV infection.
  • Each year about 3,000 to 5,000 people die from cirrhosis or liver cancer caused by HBV.

Hepatitis B virus is spread through contact with the blood or other body fluids of an infected person. A person can become infected by:

  • contact with a mother’s blood and body fluids at the time of birth;
  • contact with blood and body fluids through breaks in the skin such as bites, cuts, or sores;
  • contact with objects that could have blood or body fluids on them such as toothbrushes or razors;
  • having unprotected sex with an infected person; – sharing needles when injecting drugs; – being stuck with a used needle on the job.

Children and Adolescents

  • All children should get their first dose of hepatitis B vaccine at birth and should have completed the vaccine series by 6-18 months of age.
  • Children and adolescents through 18 years of age who did not get the vaccine when they were younger should also be vaccinated.


All unvaccinated adults at risk for HBV infection should be vaccinated. This includes:

  • People who travel to countries where hepatitis B is common.
  • People with HIV infection.
  • Sex partners of people infected with HBV, – men who have sex with men, people who inject street drugs, – people with more than one sex partner.
  • People with chronic liver or kidney disease, – people with jobs that expose them to human blood, – household contacts of people infected with HBV, – residents and staff in institutions for the developmentally disabled, – kidney dialysis patients people who travel to countries where hepatitis B is common.
  • Anyone else who wants to be protected from HBV infection may be vaccinated.  Reaction can include difficulty breathing, hoarseness or wheezing, hives, paleness, weakness, a fast heart beat or dizziness.