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Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a common disease in the United States. The good news is that the hepatitis B vaccine gives more than 90% protection to people who get the vaccine.

There are 2 vaccines that protect against hepatitis B:

  • The hepatitis B vaccine protects infants, children, and adults from hepatitis B
  • The hepatitis A and B combination vaccine protects adults from both hepatitis B and hepatitis A

Because of the vaccine, cases of acute (short-term) hepatitis B have decreased by a lot in the United States. But chronic (long-term) hepatitis B is still common — up to 2.2 million people in the United States have it. Chronic hepatitis B can lead to serious liver problems — and even death.

Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent hepatitis B.

Hepatitis B is a liver disease caused by a virus. There are 2 types of hepatitis B:

  • Acute (short-term) hepatitis B
  • Chronic (long-term) hepatitis B

Many children who get acute hepatitis B don’t have any symptoms, but most adults do. Symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Feeling tired
  • Upset stomach and throwing up
  • Not feeling hungry
  • Dark pee or clay-colored poop
  • Pain in the muscles, joints, and stomach
  • Jaundice (yellow skin or eyes)

Acute hepatitis B symptoms usually last a few weeks — but they can last as long as 6 months.

If the acute hepatitis B infection does not go away after 6 months, it’s considered a chronic hepatitis B infection. Most people who have chronic hepatitis B don’t have symptoms at first. But chronic hepatitis B is a lifelong illness that can lead to serious — and possibly deadly — liver problems, like:

  • Cirrhosis (scarring of the liver)
  • Liver cancer
  • Liver failure

Hepatitis B spreads through blood, semen, or other body fluids. Hepatitis B can spread from mother to child during birth — and when someone:

  • Has sex with a person who has hepatitis B
  • Shares drug needles with a person who has hepatitis B
  • Shares a razor or toothbrush with a person who has hepatitis B
  • Touches the blood or open sores of a person who has hepatitis B

Learn more about hepatitis B.

All children need to get the hepatitis B vaccine — and some adults may need it, too.

Infants and children

All children need to get the hepatitis B vaccine as part of their routine vaccine schedule.

Children need 3 doses of the vaccine at the following ages:

  • Birth for the first dose
  • 1 through 2 months for the second dose
  • 6 through 18 months for the third dose

Children and teens younger than 19 years who did not get the hepatitis B vaccine can still get vaccinated. Talk with your child’s doctor about a catch-up shot.

See the routine vaccination schedule for:

Adults at increased risk for hepatitis B

Adults who are at risk for hepatitis B can also get vaccinated. The vaccine is given in 3 doses. The second dose is given 1 month after the first dose, followed by a third dose 6 months after the second dose.

You may be at risk for hepatitis B if you:

  • Have diabetes
  • Have sex or live with someone who has hepatitis B
  • Have sex with more than 1 partner
  • Have an STD (sexually transmitted disease)
  • Are a man who has sex with men
  • Use drugs with needles
  • Could come into contact with blood at work (like in health care)
  • Get hemodialysis treatment for kidney problems
  • Travel to countries where hepatitis B is common

If you’re age 18 and older and at risk for both hepatitis B and hepatitis A, you may be able to get a combination vaccine that protects against both diseases. You may be at risk for both diseases if you:

  • Are traveling to certain countries where hepatitis B is common
  • Are a man who has sex with men
  • Use drugs

Talk with your doctor about how to protect your family from hepatitis B.

Some people should not get the hepatitis B vaccine — or may need to wait to get it. Be sure to tell your doctor before getting vaccinated if you:

  • Have had a life-threatening allergic reaction to the hepatitis A vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine
  • Are sick

Side effects are usually mild and go away in a few days. They may include:

  • Soreness or redness where the shot was given
  • Fever

Serious side effects from the hepatitis B vaccine are very rare.

Like any medicine, there's a very small chance that the hepatitis B vaccine could cause a serious reaction. Keep in mind that getting the hepatitis B vaccine is much safer than getting hepatitis B. Learn more about vaccine side effects.

Last reviewed: January 2018