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Bureau of HIV, STD, and Hepatitis

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a liver disease that results from infection with the Hepatitis B virus. It can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness. Hepatitis B is usually spread when blood, semen, or another body fluid from a person infected with the Hepatitis B virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. This can happen through sexual contact with an infected person or sharing needles, syringes, or other drug-injection equipment. Hepatitis B can also be passed from an infected mother to her baby at birth.

Hepatitis B can be either acute or chronic. Acute Hepatitis B virus infection is a short-term illness that occurs within the first 6 months after someone is exposed to the Hepatitis B virus. 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 Hepatitis B virus remains in a person’s body. Chronic Hepatitis B is a serious disease that can result in long-term health problems, and even death.

The best way to prevent Hepatitis B is by getting vaccinated.

Hepatitis B Transmission

How is Hepatitis B spread?

Hepatitis B is spread when blood, semen, or other body fluid infected with the Hepatitis B 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 mother to her 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
  • Exposure to blood from needlesticks or other sharp instruments

Can a person spread Hepatitis B and not know it?

Yes. Many people with chronic Hepatitis B virus infection do not know they are infected since they do not feel or look sick. However, they still can spread the virus to others and are at risk of serious health problems themselves.

Can Hepatitis B be spread through sex?

Yes. Among adults in the United States, Hepatitis B is most commonly spread through sexual contact and accounts for nearly two-thirds of acute Hepatitis B cases. In fact, Hepatitis B is 50-100 times more infectious than HIV and can be passed through the exchange of body fluids, such as semen, vaginal fluids, and blood.

What are ways Hepatitis B is not spread?

Hepatitis B virus is not spread by sharing eating utensils, breastfeeding, hugging, kissing, holding hands, coughing, or sneezing.

How long does the Hepatitis B virus survive outside the body?

Hepatitis B virus can survive outside the body at least 7 days. During that time, the virus can still cause infection if it enters the body of a person who is not infected.

Hepatitis B Exposure

Who is at risk for Hepatitis B?

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 disease
  • 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 infants born to infected mothers
  • Are exposed to blood on the job
  • Are hemodialysis patients
  • Travel to countries with moderate to high rates of Hepatitis B

Iowa Department of Public Health is not a treatment facility. If you are looking for information about treatment for hepatitis B please visit your healthcare provider.