Frequently Asked Questions

What is hepatitis B?
Infection with the hepatitis B virus causes the disease hepatitis B. Hepatitis B can cause liver failure and liver cancer. Approximately 60 to 80% of primary liver cancers in the world are caused by hepatitis B infection. Currently 1.25 million people in the U.S. have hepatitis B, and an estimated 60,000 people become infected every year. In the U.S., 5,000 people die every year from liver cancer or liver failure caused by hepatitis B; worldwide, a million people do.
Can I be tested for hepatitis B?
Yes, you can be tested with the hepatitis B surface antigen and surface antibody tests. The hepatitis B surface antigen test tells if you have chronic hepatitis B. The hepatitis B surface antibody test tells if you are protected against hepatitis B.
Is there a vaccine for hepatitis B?
Yes, there is a vaccine for hepatitis B. People who have not been vaccinated for hepatitis B should get the three-shot hepatitis B vaccination series. If you have had the hepatitis B surface antigen and surface antibody tests and had negative results, this means that you are not protected against hepatitis B and that you should get vaccinated. All newborns should also be vaccinated at birth. The hepatitis B vaccine is very effective at preventing hepatitis B and liver cancer. The World Health Organization has called the hepatitis B vaccine the "first anti-cancer vaccine."
How can one contract hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B can be transmitted through unprotected sex, by sharing or reusing needles, and by blood transfusions. Infants and young children can contract hepatitis B through contact with skin sores. Hepatitis B can also be transmitted at birth from an infected mother to her newborn. Hepatitis B is NOT spread through food and water, casual contact, hugging, kissing or breastfeeding.
What groups of people are most at risk for hepatitis B?
Asian and Pacific Islanders are most at risk for hepatitis B. Of the 1.25 million Americans chronically infected with hepatitis B, over half are Asian and Pacific Islander Americans. Worldwide, approximately 80% of people chronically infected with hepatitis B live in Asia or the Pacific Islands. Of the estimated 550,000 people in the world who die each year of liver cancer, 360,000 of them are in East Asian countries.
Additional information on hepatitis B
Asian Liver Center at Stanford University:, (888) 311-3331
Centers for Disease Control:, (800) 232-4636
For further questions please contact:
San Mateo County Public Health (650) 573-2877 (Revised 12/13)
Santa Clara County Public Health Nursing (408)792-5050 (Revised 01/14)

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