Hepatitis B, like its cousin hepatitis A, does not always produce symptoms especially among children younger than five. This means that the most hepatitis-B vulnerable segment of the population (vulnerable to the chronic form of hepatitis B, at least) is often not diagnosed. This is also why pediatricians routinely vaccinate their patients at birth, at 2 months, and again between 6 and 18 months of age against hepatitis B, or HBV.
If the mother has, or has had, hepatitis B, that first vaccination, or shot, must come within 12 hours of birth to prevent the child also developing hepatitis B. This shot includes a dose of hepatitis B immune globulin, or HBIG, to confer lifelong immunity.
Adults, especially those over 40, may experience extreme tiredness, fever, joint pain, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, dark urine, and pale or clay-colored bowel movements. In extreme cases, the skin or the whites of the eyes may turn yellowish, an indication that the liver is unable to process bile from the gallbladder. Only hepatitis B-related antigen/antibody blood tests can confirm the presence or absence of hepatitis B.
Hepatitis B symptoms usually resolve within six weeks. A few people may continue to feel ill for six months. Where symptoms persist, hepatitis B sufferers are advised to see their doctors regularly. Victims of chronic hepatitis B may, in fact, remain symptom-free for up to 30 years, even as their liver deteriorates. The Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, estimates the annual death toll from hepatitis B-related liver disease as high as 4,000.
Because the hepatitis B virus can survive outside the body for at least 7 days, parents and children with hepatitis B or those living together in a family-type situation who have an active form of hepatitis B are advised to carefully wipe up any blood or body-fluid spills with a bleach-and-water solution (1:10).
According to a recent study, older adults who require medical care and receive injections or hemodialysis are about 45 percent more likely to acquire hepatitis B.