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Difference between Acute and Chronic Hep B

by Chari Cohen, Hepatitis B Expert
April 11, 2019

Question: What is the difference between acute and chronic Hep B?

Answer:

Hepatitis B can cause both acute (new, short-term) or chronic (lifelong, long-term) infection. When someone is infected as a baby or child, they are often unable to fight the virus off, and develop chronic infection. When someone is infected as an adult, they are usually able to fight off the virus and will recover within about 6 months. 

 

When a person first is infected with hepatitis B, they have a new, or “acute” infection. If a person remains infected for at least 6 months, they are then considered to have a “chronic” or lifelong hepatitis b infection. Many individuals that are chronically infected should expect to live long and healthy lives, although we encourage them to be seen by a liver specialist. Although those that are chronically infected live with an increased risk of developing liver disease later in life, fortunately there are promising new treatments and simple lifestyle changes that can help keep the liver healthy (such as avoiding alcohol and smoking). 

 

How does one know if they have recovered or become chronically infected? Typically, people are tested 6 months from their initial diagnosis – if they are still infected at that time, then they might have a chronic hepatitis B infection. There is a simple blood test that a doctor can order to determine if one is "recovering" from a hepatitis B infection or has become chronically infected with the virus.  In order for one to have a clear picture of their hepatitis B status, they should request that their doctor order the hepatitis B blood panel.  The hepatitis panel has 3 parts, but requires only one blood sample that can be obtained in the doctor’s office.  Please visit our website at http://www.hepb.org/prevention-and-diagnosis/diagnosis/hbv-blood-tests/ for more information.

Chari Cohen is Senior Vice President of Public Health for the Hepatitis B Foundation.

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