Getting Tested for Hepatitis B - Viral Hepatitis and Liver Disease
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Viral Hepatitis and Liver Disease

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Getting Tested for Hepatitis B

for Veterans and the Public

Getting Tested - Hepatitis B for Patients

What is hepatitis B?

A hepatitis virus is one that lives in liver cells and causes inflammation. Different hepatitis viruses have been given different names, such as A, B, and C.

Hepatitis B is a contagious liver disease that ranges in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks ("acute") to a serious, lifelong illness ("chronic").

Acute hepatitis B virus infection is a short-term illness that occurs within the first 6 months after someone is exposed to HBV. Acute infection can — but does not always — lead to chronic infection.

Chronic hepatitis B virus infection is a long-term illness that occurs when the virus remains in a person's body.

Hepatitis B virus is passed from person to person when blood, semen, or other body fluid infected with the virus enters the body of a person who is not infected. People can become infected with the virus during activities such as:

  • Birth (spread from an infected parent to baby during birth)
  • Sex with an infected partner
  • Sharing needles, syringes, or other drug-injection equipment
  • Sharing items such as razors or toothbrushes with an infected person
  • Direct contact with the blood or open sores of an infected person

Who is at risk?

Although anyone can get hepatitis B, some people are at greater risk, such as those who:

  • Have sex with an infected person
  • Have multiple sex partners
  • Have a sexually transmitted illness
  • Are men who have sexual contact with other men
  • Inject drugs or share needles, syringes, or other drug equipment
  • Live with a person who has chronic hepatitis B
  • Are exposed to blood on the job
  • Are hemodialysis patients
  • Travel to countries with moderate to high rates of hepatitis B

What are the symptoms?

You may have hepatitis B for years and never have any symptoms. You can still spread the virus to others even if you don't have symptoms. When people do have symptoms, they can experience:

  • Yellowing skin or eyes (jaundice)
  • Not feeling hungry
  • Feeling tired
  • Muscle, joint, or stomach pain
  • Stomach upset, diarrhea, or vomiting

What tests are needed?

You can be tested for hepatitis B at your VA medical center. This test is done by taking a sample of your blood.

Your provider may recommend the following tests:

Hepatitis B surface antibody (Anti-HBs)

If this test is positive, it means that:

  • you have antibodies against hepatitis B and are safe from getting the disease
  • you were either vaccinated against hepatitis B or exposed to it at some point in your lifetime

Hepatitis B core antibody (Anti-HBc)

If the test is positive, it means that:

  • you have been exposed to hepatitis B and have developed an antibody to only part of the virus
  • they will do more tests to find out if you currently have the infection

Hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg)

If the test is positive, it means that:

  • you currently have hepatitis B infection
  • you can spread the virus to others

Hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg)

If the test is positive, it means that:

  • you may have active hepatitis B and should be followed closely by your provider and possibly need hepatitis B medications
  • you may be very contagious to others