Hepatitis B is a contagious liver disease that ranges in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness. It results from infection with the Hepatitis B virus. Hepatitis B can be either “acute” or “chronic.” According to the Centers for Disease Control, the rate of reported acute Hepatitis B cases in the U.S. has remained relavtively stable over the past decade, with an estimated 20,700 new cases in 2019. In 1991 the routine Hepatitis B vaccination of children was implemented and has dramatically decreased the rates of the disease in the United States, particularly among children. 

In 2016, there were an estimated 862,000 chronically infected individuals in the U.S.

HBV is transmitted when blood, semen, or other body fluid infected with Hepatitis B virus enters the body of a person not infected. 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.

The Hepatitis B virus is a much hardier virus than HIV, and it can survive outside of the body for up to 7 days. For this reason, it is critical that blood and materials contaminated with blood be properly handled and promptly disposed.


Only about 30-50% of people aged 5 years and older actually show symptoms of acute Hepatitis B. Signs and symptoms are less common in children than adults. After exposure, it may take a few weeks to 6 months for symptoms to become noticeable. Short-term symptoms may include: loss of appetite, fatigue, diarrhea and vomiting, dark urine, abdominal pain, joint pain and jaundice. About 15-25% of individuals with chronic Hepatitis B develop serious liver conditions such as cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), or liver cancer. The diagnosis is made from specific blood tests. For more info please review the Fact Sheet (pdf format)

Hepatitis B Vaccine

The good news is that there is a vaccine to prevent infection with Hepatitis B. The vaccine is safe and effective (it contains no live virus or blood products). The vaccine series consists of 3 doses given over a 6 month period (initial dose, 2nd dose one month later, final dose 6 months after the first dose). This vaccine is available to students at the University Health Center for a fee, please call and schedule an appointment. (540-568-6178)

You will not need the vaccine series at this time if:

  • you have previously received the vaccine series,
  • antibody testing has revealed you are immune,
  • vaccination is not recommended for medical reasons.


The best way to prevent Hepatitis B is to get the Hepatitis B vaccine. If you began this series and missed a dose, you DO NOT need to begin the series over. Just schedule an appointment for the next dose as soon as you can.

In addition to getting vaccinated, using Universal Precautions is your best prevention of disease transmission.


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