There is currently no cure for hepatitis B (HBV), but early intervention and treatment can help manage it. Getting medical treatment within 24 hours can prevent the infection from developing in people who have had contact with the virus.

HBV is a liver infection that results from contracting the hepatitis B virus. Around 862,000 people live with chronic HBV infection in the United States. According to the Hepatitis B Foundation, only 25% of people with HBV have received a diagnosis.

Over 50% of people with chronic HBV in the U.S. are of Asian, Pacific Islander, or African descent. Levels of HBV and resulting liver cancer are among the largest health disparities for people in these groups.

HBV can be difficult to diagnose early, but a blood test can detect it. A person can pass HBV on through bodily fluids, even if they feel well. Following a diagnosis of HBV, a person should inform their household contacts and any sexual partners so they can seek advice from a healthcare professional.

HBV is fatal for thousands of people every year because of resulting liver damage. However, most people recover from HBV infection within a few months.

This article will outline different treatment options for acute and chronic HBV. It will also discuss treatment options and when to contact a doctor.

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There is currently no cure for HBV. However, most people recover in 1–3 months.

Many people will not need treatment and can take steps to protect the health of their liver, such as:

Acute HBV lasts for a short time. A person has chronic HBV when they have had the infection for 6 months or more. A person with chronic HBV might carry the infection indefinitely.

Acute HBV can develop into chronic HBV. A person’s risk of developing chronic HBV is relative to the age at which they first developed the infection.

Newborns and young children with HBV have a higher risk of developing a chronic infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • around 9 in 10 infants with acute HBV will develop chronic HBV
  • roughly 1 in 3 children who contract the infection before the age of 6 will develop chronic HBV
  • almost all adults and children older than 6 with HBV will recover completely

If a person thinks they have been in contact with the bodily fluids of someone with HBV, they should contact a doctor right away. Doctors usually recommend a hepatitis B vaccine.

Doctors may also recommend a medication called hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG) to help prevent infection. A person is less likely to develop HVB if they get the vaccine and HBIG if needed within 24 hours.

Treatment options are different for acute and chronic HBV.

Acute HBV treatment

There are no treatments available for acute HBV. If symptoms are mild, doctors may recommend:

  • resting
  • maintaining a cool environment and taking cooler baths or showers to avoid making itching worse
  • using pain relief medications such as paracetamol and ibuprofen for stomach pains
  • taking prescription medication for symptoms such as itching or nausea
  • drinking plenty of fluids
  • eating a nutritious diet

People with more severe symptoms may need to go to the hospital.

Doctors recommend having regular blood tests to check whether the infection has resolved or developed into chronic HBV.

Chronic HBV treatment

If a person is still testing positive after 6 months, a doctor will diagnose chronic HBV. A person with chronic HBV might not need treatment but will need to see a doctor at least every 6 months for monitoring. People with chronic HBV are at increased risk of developing cirrhosis, liver failure, or liver cancer.

There are currently two main types of medicines for chronic HBV:

Immune modulator drugs

These are also known as interferons. The drugs boost the immune system to remove the virus, and people receive them by injection for 6 months to a year.

Antiviral drugs

These stop or slow the virus to prevent it from replicating. This can reduce damage to the liver. A person takes a pill once a day for at least a year.

Researchers are testing new drugs to treat HBV in clinical trials. If conventional treatments fail, a person may receive a place on a trial.

Learn more about the hepatitis B vaccine here.

HBV is not curable, but people living with the condition can expect to live a long and healthy life. A person can manage their HBV by seeing a doctor regularly for monitoring.

A person with HBV can also eat well and avoid alcohol and tobacco to help maintain their liver health.

Diagnosing people with the condition is important. Currently, HBV is underdiagnosed. The earlier a person receives treatment, the less likely they are to have experienced liver damage.

Acute HBV may result in acute liver failure, where the liver suddenly fails. A person who has developed acute liver failure might need a liver transplant to recover.

Chronic HBV may lead to a number of conditions, including:

  • liver failure
  • cirrhosis
  • liver cancer
  • reactivated HBV, where previously resolved HBV returns

Learn more about liver failure here.

A person can develop symptoms 2–5 months after contracting the virus. Very young children and some adults may not show symptoms.

Symptoms that can indicate HBV infection include:

A person may not show symptoms unless they develop chronic HBV.

If a person thinks they have been in contact with the bodily fluids of someone with HBV, they should contact a healthcare professional immediately.

A pregnant person living with HBV may need extra treatment and monitoring during pregnancy and should inform anyone who helps at the birth that they have HBV. A doctor will give the baby the vaccine and HBIG immediately after the birth to help prevent them from developing the infection.

HBV is a serious condition of the liver, which can result in further serious complications. The condition is treatable, but there is no cure. Most people recover from HBV within 1–3 months.

A person living with acute HBV may not need treatment. A person still living with HBV after 6 months may have developed a chronic infection.

Healthcare professionals can monitor the health of a person’s liver and offer treatment if there are any changes.

Many people in the U.S. unknowingly live with HBV. If a person suspects that they have come into contact with the bodily fluids of a person living with HBV, they should contact a healthcare professional, preferably within 24 hours.

A person who has received a diagnosis of HBV should inform household contacts and any sexual partners so they can seek medical advice.