Children's Hospital Colorado

Hepatitis B

What is hepatitis?

In simple terms, the word hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. Many things can cause hepatitis, including viruses (hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C), fatty liver disease, and autoimmune and metabolic liver disease.

What is hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is an infection of the liver from a virus called "hepatitis B." Hepatitis B can lead to a brief infection or a lifelong infection of the liver.

What causes hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is caused by a virus spread through contact with blood or bodily fluids of an infected person. This includes mother-to-child transmission, needle stick, sharing needles or having unprotected sexual intercourse.

Who gets hepatitis B?

Approximately 43,000 people per year are infected in the United States and 1.25 million people in the U.S. are chronically infected with hepatitis B. All ages and ethnicities are equally susceptible to acquiring the virus.

What are the signs and symptoms of hepatitis B?

The majority of infected children acquire the virus at birth and are without symptoms in childhood. Older age at the time of acquiring the virus infection can be associated with symptoms. Symptoms can occur 45 to160 days after someone is exposed to the virus.

Common symptoms of hepatitis B include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Stomach pain
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle and joint pains
  • Rashes
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and/or skin)

How is hepatitis B diagnosed?

Standard blood tests will help in the diagnosis, and specialized blood tests can confirm a hepatitis B infection. Patients who have chronic hepatitis B (ongoing infection for more than six months) will need laboratory blood tests and clinic visits to assess for progression of disease.

Why choose Children's Hospital Colorado for hepatitis B testing?

At Children's Colorado, our staff members are specialists at obtaining blood from patients of all sizes. In addition, a special cream can be applied to decrease the pain from a needle stick.

Interpretation of the results of hepatitis B testing can be complicated. Our liver specialists are experts at helping patients understand the results of their hepatitis B tests and counseling them on monitoring and treatment options.

How does Children's Colorado treat hepatitis B?

Many hepatitis B patients spontaneously clear the virus without treatment. The virus may cause a more severe infection or become chronic, causing liver scarring (cirrhosis) over the years or increase the risk of liver cancer.

It is not clear why one person completely recovers while another develops a chronic infection, but the age at which infection occurs can affect chance of recovery: Newborns run a 90 to 95% risk of becoming chronically infected, while the risk decreases with increasing age at acquisition. People with other underlying liver disease also have a higher risk of complications if also infected with hepatitis B.

Medical therapies at Children's Colorado are also available for children with symptomatic, chronic hepatitis B infection. These therapies are usually given for at least six months. The liver specialist will decide if and when medical therapy is indicated.

In addition, liver specialists conduct clinical trials of investigational therapies for chronic hepatitis B. Our liver specialist will decide with you if and when medical therapy is indicated.

Do doctors recommend the hepatitis B vaccine?

The hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for all infants and children. The vaccine preparations available in the U.S. contain a purified part of the virus protein. It cannot cause infection and is very safe.

A series of three injections (shots) is necessary to ensure a person develops protection against the virus. In newborns of an infected mother, combining the hepatitis B vaccine with another medication called hepatitis B immunoglobulin (HBIG) has been shown to dramatically decrease the risk of chronic infection.

Why choose Children's Colorado for hepatitis B treatment?

The Digestive Health Institute at Children's Colorado is consistently ranked among the best in the nation by U.S. News & World Report for the treatment of digestive disorders. We are one of the only Pediatric Liver Centers in the nation that has six board-certified hepatologists (liver specialists), as well as a nationally-recognized Infectious Disease team with expertise in infectious hepatitis.

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