Hepatitis B vaccine: Answers to your most-asked questions

1. Why get vaccinated?

Hepatitis B is a serious disease.
The hepatitis B virus can cause short-term (acute) illness that leads to:

  • loss of appetite
  • diarrhea and vomiting
  • tiredness
  • jaundice (yellow skin or eyes)
  • pain in muscles, joints, and stomach

It can also cause long-term (chronic) illness that leads to:

  • liver damage (cirrhosis)
  • liver cancer
  • death

About 1.25 million people in the U.S. have chronic hepatitis B virus infection.

Each year it is estimated that:

  • 200,000 people, mostly young adults, get infected with hepatitis B virus
  • More than 11,000 people have to stay in the hospital because of hepatitis B
  • 4,000 to 5,000 people die from chronic hepatitis B

Hepatitis B vaccine can prevent hepatitis B. It is the first anticancer vaccine because it can prevent a form of liver cancer.

2. How is hepatitis B virus spread?

Hepatitis B virus is spread through contact with the blood and body fluids of an infected person. A person can get infected in several ways, such as:

  • during birth when the virus passes from an infected mother to her baby
  • by having sex with an infected person
  • by injecting illegal drugs
  • by being stuck with a used needle on the job
  • by sharing personal items, such as a razor or toothbrush with an infected person

People can get hepatitis B virus infection without knowing how they got it. About 1/3 of hepatitis B cases in the United States have an unknown source.

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