Questions & Answers
Hepatitis B - The Disease
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  1. What are the symptoms of hepatitis B?

    Most people who get hepatitis B infection as babies or children don't look or feel sick at all. Similarly, almost half of adults who get infected don't have any symptoms or signs of the disease. If people do have signs or symptoms, they may experience any or all of the following:

    • loss of appetite
    • clay-colored bowel movements
    • yellowing of skin and eyes (jaundice)
    • nausea, vomiting
    • fever
    • weakness, tiredness, inability to work for weeks or months
    • abdominal pain and/or joint pain
    • dark urine

  2. I'm not in one of the risk groups name above. How did I get hepatitis B infection?

    Many people don't know when or how they acquired the infection. When they get the blood test results indicating they've been infected with hepatitis B, they are taken by surprise. Studies have demonstrated that 30% to 40% of people who acquire hepatitis B infection are unable to identify any risk factors explaining why they have the disease.

  3. Do people usually recover from hepatitis B infection?

    Nearly 95% of adults recover after several months. They clear the infection from their bodies and become immune. This means they won't get infected with hepatitis B again. They are no longer contagious and cannot pass hepatitis B on to others.

    Unfortunately, of those who become newly infected with hepatitis B virus, about 5% of adults and up to 90% of children under age 5 are unable to clear the infection from their bodies. They become chronically infected and can pass the virus to others.

  4. How do I know if I have or have had hepatitis B infection?

    The only way to know if you are currently infected with hepatitis B, have recovered, are chronically infected, or are susceptible, is by having blood tests. The three standard blood tests are the following:

    1. HBsAg (hepatitis B surface antigen): when this test is "positive" or "reactive," it means the person is currently infected with hepatitis B and is able to pass the infection on to others.
    2. Anti-HBc [or HBc-Ab] (antibody to hepatitis B core antigen): when this test is "positive" or "reactive," it may mean the person has had contact with hepatitis B. This is a very complicated test to explain because the "anti-HBc" could possibly be a "false-positive" test result. The interpretation of this positive test usually depends on the results of the other two blood tests. Blood banks routinely run an "anti-HBc," but they do not routinely run an "anti-HBs."
    3. Anti-HBs [or HBs-Ab] (antibody to hepatitis B surface antigen): when this test is "positive" or "reactive," it means the person is immune to hepatitis B infection, either from immunization or from past infection. If the person was previously infected, he or she cannot pass the disease on to others. Remember, this test is not routinely done by blood banks.
    Interpretation of the Hepatitis B Blood Test Results
    Tests Results Interpretation
    HBsAg negative Susceptible to hepatitis B infection
    anti-HBc negative
    anti-HBs negative
    HBsAg negative Immune due to immunization
    anti-HBc negative
    anti-HBs positive with >10mIU/mL*
    HBsAg negative Immune due to infection with hepatitis B
    anti-HBc positive
    anti-HBs positive
    HBsAg positive Newly infected with hepatitis B virus
    anti-HBc positive
    IgM anti-HBc positive
    anti-HBs negative
    HBsAg positive Chronically infected with hepatitis B virus
    anti-HBc positive
    IgM anti-HBc negative
    anti-HBs negative
    HBsAg negative Four interpretations possible†
    anti-HBc positive
    anti-HBs negative
    • * Post-immunization testing, when it is recommended, should be done 1 to 2 months after the final dose.
    • †, 1.May be recovering from acute hepatitis B infection.
    • 2. May be distantly immune and the test is not sensitive enough to detect a very low level of anti-HBs in serum.
    • 3. May be susceptible with a "false positive" anti-HBc.
    • 4. May be chronically infected and have an undetectable level of HBsAg present in the serum.

  5. What does it mean if my blood bank said I tested positive for hepatitis B and can no longer donate blood?

    If the blood bank told you your test was "positive," it is important to find out which test was positive. If the "HBsAg" was positive, this means that you are either chronically infected with hepatitis B or were recently infected. If only the "anti-HBc" was positive, it is most likely that you either had a "false-positive" test or are immune to hepatitis B. It is important that you understand the full meaning of your test results. If you are not sure how to interpret these test results, call your blood bank for an explanation or have the blood bank send the test results to your physician. You may need to provide written permission for the blood bank to release these results to your physician. Your physician may want to repeat the blood tests or perform additional tests such as an "anti-HBs." Bring this information sheet along with you to your doctor visit. And remember, you cannot contract hepatitis B from donating blood, because the equipment used during blood donation is sterile.