Common questions about hepatitis B

What is Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B (or Hep B) is a contagious virus that attacks the liver. This virus can cause such serious health problems as liver cancer. In fact, Hepatitis B is the leading cause of liver cancer.

The initial viral infection – called acute Hepatitis B – can cause serious illness on its own, and lead to chronic Hep B. Chronic hepatitis B has no cure.

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What causes Hep B?

Hepatitis B is caused by a virus that attacks the liver. It is spread from person to person through infected body fluids, including blood and breast milk, or even through exposure to items with the blood of an infected person on them (such as dirty used needles). Hepatitis B can also be passed from an infected mother to her baby during childbirth. The younger your child is when he or she is infected, the more likely he or she is to become infected for life.

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What are the symptoms of Hep B?

Children under five years of age who develop acute Hepatitis B may not show any symptoms at all.

Older children may show the following symptoms:

  • fever
  • fatigue
  • loss of appetite
  • yellow skin and eyes (jaundice)

Acute Hepatitis B can lead to chronic Hepatitis B. Chronic Hep B can cause such issues as liver disease and cancer of the liver. Symptoms of these diseases can include:

  • pain in the abdomen
  • a growing lump or mass under the ribs on the right or left side
  • fatigue
  • loss of appetite
  • yellow skin and eyes (jaundice)

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What can happen to my child if he or she gets Hep B?

Hepatitis B is the leading cause of liver cancer. 15% to 25% of individuals with chronic Hepatitis B will develop serious diseases of the liver, including liver cancer.

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Is there a treatment or cure for Hep B?

There is no cure for chronic Hepatitis B. In some cases the liver damage caused by Hep B is so severe that the only “cure” is a liver transplant.

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What is the name of the immunization that includes protection against Hep B?

The Hepatitis B vaccine.

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At what age is it recommended that my child be immunized against Hep B?

Most new cases of Hepatitis B in Alberta occur in young adulthood. For this reason, Hepatitis B immunization is offered to all students in Grade 5 in Alberta, to ensure they are well protected before they become adults.

Three doses of the Hepatitis B vaccine, administered within your child’s Grade 5 school year, will protect your child against hepatitis B. Your child is recommended to receive all three doses of the Hepatitis B vaccine in Grade 5. 

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Are there side effects to the Hep B vaccine?

Sometimes there are mild side effects like slight pain or soreness in the local area of the shot and occasionally a low-grade fever, tiredness and headache. For tips on managing these symptoms, click here.

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Is this disease called any other names?