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What Groups of People are at Risk for Hepatitis B?

Article Details
  • Written By: Marjorie McAtee
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 25 March 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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One's risk for hepatitis B infection depends largely upon personal behaviors, but can also be a matter of personal circumstances. Hepatitis B is a viral infection that can reduce liver function and even lead to liver failure. It's believed more common in some countries than in others, so natives of some regions are generally more likely to contract it. Sexual practices, drug use, and even occupational factors can increase one's risk for hepatitis B infection.

Hepatitis B is a virus that infects the cells of the liver, usually damaging liver function. Hepatitis B can be acute, meaning that symptoms last no longer than six months before the immune system overpowers the virus, leaving the infected person with a natural immunity. When chronic hepatitis B infection occurs, it's usually because the immune system isn't strong enough to overpower the virus. Symptoms of chronic hepatitis B infection normally last for longer than six months, and can even continue for the rest of the patient's life. Chronic cases of hepatitis B can lead to life-threatening complications, including liver cancer, cirrhosis, and liver failure.

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Vaccinations are available to protect against hepatitis B infection, and are usually recommended to those with an increased risk for hepatitis B infection. Anyone whose relatives or household members have or have had a hepatitis B infection may want to consider getting vaccinated. Health care professionals, police officers, and others whose occupations might bring them into contact with blood are considered to be at increased risk for hepatitis B infection. Persons native to, or whose parents or other close relatives are native to, Central and Southeast Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe may be at increased risk of infection, since hepatitis B infection is often more common in these regions. Persons traveling to these regions may be exposed to the virus, especially if they engage in unprotected sex or receive medical treatment in the high-risk region.

Having unprotected sex, especially with partners who may be infected with hepatitis B, can greatly increase the chances of contracting this disease. Those who are or have previously been infected with a sexually transmitted infection, including HIV, may be at increased risk for contracting hepatitis B. Men who engage in sexual intercourse with other men are considered at an increased risk for hepatitis B infection. Intravenous drug users are considered to be at high risk for infection, especially if they fail to use sterile needles each time they inject intravenous drugs, or if they share their needles with others. Those about to receive tattoos, piercings, or acupuncture are generally advised to ensure that the needles are sterilized after each use, or that new, sterile needles are always used.

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