A hepatitis B carrier is someone who is infected with hepatitis B, an infectious virus-based disease. It affects the liver of the carrier and can cause medical problems such as cirrhosis and liver cancer. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that, as of 2008, there were between 800,000 and 1.4 million people living in the United States as hepatitis B carriers.
A hepatitis B carrier will usually exhibit symptoms that indicate he has contracted hepatitis B. The carrier will usually become sick when he contracts the disease and will likely show symptoms that include vomiting, fever, itchy skin, and jaundice. It is also possible to be a hepatitis B carrier and show no symptoms of the disease.
Becoming a hepatitis B carrier is entirely preventable. Hepatitis B is spread through infected blood. To minimize the risk of contracting hepatitis B, practice safe sex and do not use contaminated needles. Hepatitis B is also spread through blood transfusions and passed from mother to child during childbirth, but these cases are more difficult to prevent. Hepatitis B vaccines are also effective in preventing hepatitis B infections.
In most cases, medical treatment for a hepatitis B carrier is not necessary. Most adults will clear the infection without treatment. Children and those who have compromised immune systems may need to take drugs to treat the infection. Even though treatment is not usually necessary with hepatitis B, it is still recommended that someone who suspects he may be infected with hepatitis B see a physician.
Those who clear the virus will fully recover and develop an immunity to the virus. Those who do not clear the virus have a 40 percent chance of dying as a result of symptoms stemming from hepatitis B. The most common causes of death for those affected with hepatitis B are liver cancer and cirrhosis. Drinking alcohol also increases the chance of liver cancer and cirrhosis, so it is recommended that hepatitis B carriers do not drink alcohol.
Worldwide, it is estimated that more that 2 billion people worldwide had been infected with the hepatitis B virus as of 2004, the most recent year for which such statistics were available. Of these, there were an estimated 350 million hepatitis B carriers. It is much more common in Asian and Africa than in Europe and the United States. In China, there are more than 130 million carriers, which represents about one-third of hepatitis B carriers.