Liver Diseases

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is an inflammatory liver disease caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Mount Sinai Health System offers you the most advanced diagnostic procedures and treatments for hepatitis B. Our multidisciplinary team brings together physicians, nurses, dieticians, and psychologists to care for you.

As part of one of the nation’s premier Health Systems, our outstanding faculty, researchers, and clinicians collaborate to use the findings of the extensive research facilities at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. We also work with other organizations to bring you the latest medicines and apply what we learn in clinical trials to your treatment.

Additionally, our researchers are experts in molecular virology—studying viruses on a molecular level to understand how they affect the body. Our hepatitis B experts also conduct antiviral drug research and author papers published in peer-reviewed journals to share what we learn.

About Hepatitis B

Symptoms of acute hepatitis B appear approximately six weeks after you are exposed to the virus. In many cases, your body fights off the infection on its own. However, approximately five to ten percent of cases progress to chronic liver disease. Chronic hepatitis B is an infection that lasts longer than six months. Once the infection becomes chronic, it may never go away completely. It can be very serious, leading to cirrhosis, liver cancer, liver failure, and death.

Knowing how to prevent hepatitis B, your level of risk, how HBV is transmitted, and its symptoms can help you get the care you need to minimize its effects.

Preventing Hepatitis B

A safe and effective vaccine prevents hepatitis B. You can get the vaccine at any age. For full protection, you will need to complete a series of three injections. This vaccine provides immunity for at least five years. In some instances, the protection from the vaccine lasts a lifetime. Discuss with your doctor the value of the HBV vaccine for you and your loved ones. We can advise you. Currently, there is no cure for hepatitis B, and prevention is crucial.

While you can get the vaccine at any age, typically, the hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for:

  • Newborns
  • Teenagers
  • Diabetics

Risk Factors for Hepatitis B

Exposure to body fluids infected with hepatitis B virus (HBV) is the most common cause of the disease. The virus is carried by HBV infected blood, semen, vaginal secretions, and saliva. Knowing this, if you discover that you touched an infected fluid, seek treatment immediately. Early detection and treatment may help you avoid the long-term effects of HBV.

People of all ages in the United States have a chance of developing hepatitis B, even the youngest infants born to a mother with the virus who did not get treatment during pregnancy. Infected children often spread the virus to other children if there is frequent contact with an infected child or if a child has many scrapes and cuts.

Children born to mothers who have hepatitis B or those whose mothers lived in a country where hepatitis B is widespread are at risk for developing the disease.

In addition, risks for developing hepatitis B include:

  • Receiving blood transfusions or blood products before the early 1990s
  • Living where someone is infected with the virus
  • Participating in high-risk activities such as intravenous drug use or unprotected heterosexual or homosexual sexual contact
  • Working at a job that involves contact with human blood

Symptoms of Hepatitis B

While HBV may be mild without symptoms, there is also the possibility that HBV may cause varied symptoms. If symptoms occur, they develop within one to six months of exposure to the virus. Flu-like symptoms are often misdiagnosed, and while your symptoms may be unique, the following are the most common symptoms of hepatitis B:

  • Appetite loss
  • Dark colored urine
  • Fatigue
  • Itching all over the body
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and the whites of your eyes)
  • Joint paint
  • Pain over the liver area
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Skin rashes
  • Stools are a pale grayish or clay color

Diagnosing Hepatitis B

Testing for hepatitis B is not routine. Often, your doctor may discover hepatitis B when you get blood tests for another condition, during your annual check-up, as part of an insurance policy exam, or before surgery. If your doctor sees abnormalities in your liver blood test results, the next step may be a second blood test for liver function and hepatitis viruses.

In addition to a complete physical examination and laboratory tests for blood and urine, diagnostic procedures for hepatitis B may involve an abdominal ultrasound, a CT scan, or an MRI to screen for liver cancer. A liver biopsy can determine if there is scarring (fibrosis) on your liver and its extent.

Treatments We Offer

Hepatitis B usually goes away by itself and does not require medical treatment. If you have a severe case with symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhea, your treatment will include fluids and electrolytes to minimize your symptoms.

If you have a diagnosis of chronic hepatitis B, you should see your doctor regularly. Most often, your treatment will include taking one pill daily with follow up every two to three months.

Our primary goal of therapy for chronic hepatitis B is to suppress the hepatitis B virus. Treatment helps reduce inflammation and slows the progression to cirrhosis and liver failure. Treatment also reduces your risk of liver cancer.

How Common is Hepatitis B?

In the United States, less than 1 in 2,000 has HBV. Among Asian Americans, the prevalence is much greater with 1 in 10. In most cases, there has been no testing, and those infected are not aware they have the virus.

In the United States, the burden of chronic HBV infection is greater among certain populations. This is due to infection occurring at an early age, immune suppression that makes the body susceptible, or higher levels of the infection circulating in the community.

Higher HBV rates tend to occur in those who are:

  • Born in geographic regions with a prevalence of chronic HBV infection
  • HIV-positive and who might have additional risk factors

Hepatitis B represents a significant global health problem, with five percent of the world population infected by the virus. HBV is responsible for more than one million deaths per year globally, and worldwide 75 percent of persons with chronic hepatitis B are in Asia. The World Health Organization estimates that two billion people worldwide have been exposed to HBV. Among them, 370 million people worldwide have chronic infection. In Asia, 8-10 percent of the population is chronically infected, and up to 50 percent of new cases are due to mother-to-child transmission.

One way to address the high number of HBV cases is to ensure that at-risk populations get the full three-part series of hepatitis B vaccines. You can get the HBV vaccine at Mount Sinai.