There’s no cure for hepatitis B, but there is a highly effective vaccine as well as options for managing your symptoms, lessening your risk of long-term health effects, and preventing transmission.

Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus. The virus is passed from person to person through bodily fluids, including blood or semen.

Hepatitis B can cause a range of symptoms, such as:

  • abdominal pain
  • dark-colored urine
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • yellowing of the skin or eyes

For many adults who develop an infection of the virus, hepatitis B is acute, and symptoms may pass without treatment after 1 to 3 months. There’s also a highly effective vaccine available for people of all ages.

Hepatitis B isn’t curable, but ongoing research is looking into the use of DNA technology to prevent the virus from reproducing in your body. Experts are also looking into ways to use your body’s own immune system to kill off the virus. But there needs to be more large, long-term studies done on these potential cures before they become a reality.

Read on to learn more about the different types of hepatitis B and how they’re treated.

Hepatitis B can be either acute or chronic:

  • Acute hepatitis B lasts for a short period of time. If you have acute hepatitis B, you may be asymptomatic or have symptoms and develop icteric hepatitis. It can transition into chronic hepatitis B if the virus doesn’t naturally go away after 6 months.
  • Chronic hepatitis B lasts for at least 6 months. If you have this type of hepatitis, you may carry the hepatitis B virus for the rest of your life. It’s possible to have chronic hepatitis B that started as acute, but many people don’t have acute hepatitis B first.

Most people with acute hepatitis B make a full recovery. Some may never even show any symptoms. But those with chronic hepatitis B often need treatment to help manage the infection. Chronic hepatitis B also increases your risk of developing cirrhosis and certain types of liver cancer.

Your risk of developing chronic hepatitis B depends on when you first received your diagnosis of the virus. Children who receive a diagnosis of hepatitis B, especially those under the age of 5 years old, have a higher risk of the infection becoming chronic. Adults are less likely to develop chronic hepatitis B. Around 90 percent of adults who develop it will fully recover.

Keep in mind that hepatitis B can be present for years before you start to show any symptoms.

Acute hepatitis B doesn’t always require treatment. Most of the time, a doctor or healthcare professional will recommend monitoring your symptoms and getting regular blood tests to determine whether the virus is still in your body.

While you recover, allow your body to rest and drink plenty of fluids to help your body fight off the infection. You can also take an over-the-counter pain reliever to help with any abdominal pain you have. Speak with a doctor about which medications can help your symptoms.

See a doctor if your symptoms are severe or seem to be getting worse. You may need to take a prescription antiviral medication to avoid potential liver damage.

Like acute hepatitis B, chronic hepatitis B may not require medical treatment to avoid permanent liver damage. For some people, monitoring their symptoms and getting regular liver tests is an appropriate care regimen.

Treatment generally involves antiviral medications, such as:

  • peginterferon alfa-2a injections
  • antiviral tablets, such as tenofovir or entecavir

Antiviral medications can help to reduce your symptoms and prevent liver damage, but they rarely completely get rid of the hepatitis B virus. Instead, the goal of treatment is for you to have the lowest viral load possible. Viral load refers to the amount of a virus in a blood sample.

If you have chronic hepatitis B, you’ll likely need to follow up with a doctor every 6 months for a blood test to determine your viral load and liver health. Based on your results, a doctor may alter your medication dosage. Some people with severe chronic hepatitis B may eventually need a liver transplant.

There’s no cure for hepatitis B, but the infection is preventable and can be avoided by taking a few precautions. Hepatitis B is often spread through sexual contact, shared needles, and accidental needlesticks.

You can lower your risk of developing hepatitis B or spreading the virus to others by:

  • using condoms or other barrier methods during sexual activity
  • getting regularly tested for hepatitis B
  • not sharing personal items that might contain blood, such as razors or toothbrushes
  • not sharing needles or syringes

If you don’t have access to clean needles, you can find a local needle exchange program using the North American Syringe Exchange Network’s directory for cities in the United States. If you live outside of the United States or can’t find any resources in your city, ask someone who works at your local pharmacy.

The hepatitis B vaccine

Getting the hepatitis B vaccine is one of the most effective ways to prevent hepatitis B. It’s usually administered in two, three, or four doses. In many countries, infants receive their first dose of the vaccine at birth.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that infants receive their first dose of the vaccine at birth and finish all doses at 6 to 18 months old.

The CDC also recommends all children under the age of 19 years old be vaccinated if they haven’t already received the vaccination.

Adults can also get the hepatitis B vaccine. The vaccine is generally recommended if you have an increased risk of contracting the virus. Some of these risk factors include:

  • traveling to or living in a region where hepatitis B is common
  • being sexually active with more than one partner or with a partner who has hepatitis B
  • working in a medical setting or other workplaces where you’re exposed to bodily fluids
  • using intravenous drugs and sharing drug equipment
  • having chronic liver disease, a human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, a hepatitis C infection, diabetes, or kidney disease on dialysis

If you’ve been exposed to the hepatitis B virus and haven’t been vaccinated, try to see a doctor right away. They can administer the first dose of the vaccine, though you’ll need to follow up to receive the remaining doses over the next few months.

They may also prescribe a medication called hepatitis B immunoglobulin. This works quickly against the virus for short-term protection. Both of these options work best when started as soon as possible after exposure to the virus.

There’s no cure for hepatitis B, but there are several treatments that can help you with managing your symptoms and lowering your risk of long-term health problems, such as cirrhosis.

If you have hepatitis B, try to get in for a blood test every 6 months or so to monitor your viral load and liver health. If you’re at risk of being exposed to the virus, your best bet is to get the hepatitis B vaccine if you haven’t already.