Hepatitis B Facts for Teens
What is hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is a viral disease of the liver. While most people recover, hepatitis B may cause serious liver damage, even death.
What are the symptoms?
Hepatitis B may cause a variety of symptoms, including loss of appetite, tiredness, nausea and vomiting, skin rashes, and a yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice). Some people are infected, but never feel sick at all.
How is hepatitis B spread?
The virus is found in blood, saliva, and sexual fluids. You can get hepatitis B if you:
- share needles or syringes
- have sex (gay or straight) with an infected person
- touch an infected person's open cut or sore (during a fight, for example)
- use an infected person's razor or toothbrush
- get a tattoo or body piercing with improperly sterilized equipment
You may also have been infected at birth or in childhood, if your mother or household members were infected. Infection rates are very high in some parts of the world--especially China, Southeast Asia, Africa, the Pacific Islands, the Middle East, South America, and Alaska.
Hepatitis B is not foodborne, nor is it spread by casual contact (face-to-face conversation, shaking hands, etc.).
What is a carrier?
Although most people get rid of the virus after a few months, some people cannot clear the virus from their bodies. These people can infect others, because they "carry" the virus. Most carriers remain infectious for life. Between 3 and 10 of every 100 teenagers who are infected with hepatitis B become carriers. Carriers are at a much higher risk of developing liver cancer and other potentially deadly liver problems.
How can I recognize carriers and other infected people?
You can't. People can be infectious before, during, and after the time they feel sick--or they may never become sick at all. As a rule, carriers don't look or feel ill. Most carriers don't even know they are infected, unless they get a blood test for hepatitis B.
Hepatitis B is preventable!
A vaccine is available to protect people from hepatitis B. If you want to protect yourself, you can get a series of three shots, spread over six months, to prevent this disease. Avoiding risky behaviors also reduces your risk of infection.
If you think you might be at risk...
Contact your regular doctor, clinic, or local county health department for more information. If you do not know who to call, call 211. Thousands of Oregon teens have been immunized against hepatitis B. Protect yourself! Get immunized!