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If untreated, an acute infection can lead to chronic hepatitis B, which is linked to an increased risk of liver cancer and cirrhosis.
All adults over the age of 18 should get tested for hepatitis B—an infection that can cause liver cancer and early death—at least once in their lifetime, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend.
Hepatitis B, or HBV, is transmitted through contact with infected blood or body fluids, which can happen through pregnancy, sex, or injecting drugs.
According to a report by the CDC, about 580,000 to 2.4 million people are estimated to be living with HBV infection in the U.S., and about two-thirds of them might not be aware that they have it. The report also states that chronic HBV disproportionately affects people who were born outside the U.S., as they account for 14% of the general U.S. population but account for 69% of the population living with chronic HBV infection.
Most people initially infected with HBV won’t have symptoms, but those who do will experience fatigue, poor appetite, stomach pain, nausea, and jaundice, the CDC says.
While HBV is a short-term illness, sometimes the virus lingers in the body, and if untreated, an acute infection can lead to chronic HBV, which is linked to an increased risk of liver cancer and cirrhosis.
The CDC says that people with chronic HBV are 70% to 85% more likely to die early.
"Although a curative treatment is not yet available, early diagnosis and treatment of chronic HBV infections reduces the risk for cirrhosis, liver cancer, and death," said the CDC.
The CDC’s previous recommendation for testing was made 15 years ago.
In 2008, HBV screening was recommended for those who faced an increased risk of infection. Now, the agency recommends screening for everyone who is 18 and older at least once in their lifetime.
Additionally, the CDC recommends pregnant people be screened during each pregnancy, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated or tested.
The CDC also says that people at the highest risk—those who are incarcerated, have multiple sex partners, or have a history of hepatitis C infection—should be tested periodically.
Currently, there are effective vaccines to prevent hepatitis B, and antiviral medications are also available to treat people with chronic hepatitis B.
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