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If you were recently exposed to hepatitis B, you might wonder: How long does it take hepatitis B to show up? After all, this virus can result in a serious liver condition, and you’ll want to do everything possible to prevent the infection.
Unfortunately, hepatitis B can take a while to show up on an STD test or begin producing symptoms. You may not experience symptoms until up to five months after exposure, but they can begin in as little as eight weeks.
You won’t immediately know whether hepatitis B exposure led to an infection. But periodically screening for hepatitis B with a 10-panel STD test can help you catch it as soon as it shows up in your body.
Here’s everything you need to know about hepatitis B symptoms, testing, medication, and prevention:
What Is Hepatitis B?
The term “hepatitis” means inflammation of the liver, and there are a few different forms of this condition: hepatitis A, B, and C. Each spreads through a different hepatitis virus, but they produce similar symptoms.
Hepatitis B is a liver infection resulting from the hepatitis B virus (HBV). This virus transmits through body fluids. You may contract it if you share needles or have sexual contact with an infected person. An infected mother can also pass hepatitis B to her baby.
Because hepatitis B is often asymptomatic, it can easily spread between unsuspecting persons. If you’re sexually active, completing a rapid STD test periodically can help you identify asymptomatic STDs.
Acute vs. Chronic Hepatitis B
Contracting HBV can lead to an acute or chronic hepatitis B infection.
Acute hepatitis B is the first phase of the infection, occurring during the six-month window after contracting HBV. You may not experience any symptoms during this phase. Those who do have symptoms of acute hepatitis B will typically only show mild ones.
Some people may experience more intense symptoms of acute hepatitis B than others, and this infection occasionally requires hospitalization.
Around 90% of adults infected with hepatitis B fight off the infection while it’s in the acute phase. In these people, the liver heals from the infection completely, and the infected person experiences immunity to hepatitis B for the rest of their life.
The other 10% of the population who cannot successfully fight off the infection within six months experience chronic hepatitis. This second phase of the infection usually persists for the rest of the person’s life.
People with chronic hepatitis can experience serious health problems like liver damage and cirrhosis. Sometimes, hepatitis B leads to liver cancer and can even result in death.
While chronic hepatitis B is relatively rare in adults, it is much more common in infants infected at birth. Around 90% of infants with hepatitis B develop a lifelong chronic infection. This risk dramatically decreases by the time a child turns six, at that point mirroring the risk for adults.
Hepatitis B Symptoms
Hepatitis B can produce different symptoms depending on which phase of the infection you are in.
Initially, acute hepatitis B may not produce any symptoms, or you may only experience mild upset stomach, fatigue, or loss of appetite, much like the flu. More serious symptoms of acute and chronic hepatitis B may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
- Joint pain
- Dark urine
- Clay-colored bowel movements
Because hepatitis B is an inflammation of the liver, it has several overlapping symptoms with liver disease.
Symptoms of acute hepatitis B may last for a few weeks. Meanwhile, if your hepatitis B becomes chronic, these symptoms may worsen, resulting in liver failure or scarring.
How long does it take hepatitis B to show up? Hepatitis B has a lengthy incubation period, which refers to how long the virus remains dormant in your body before showing symptoms. This incubation period can range between 60 and 150 days, though the typical period is 90 days.
However, an STD test may be able to detect hepatitis B as early as one week after a person comes into contact with the virus. The average incubation period for detection is four weeks after exposure, but it can take up to 60 days. Retesting is important to ensure you accurately detect hepatitis B after exposure.
After you begin showing symptoms of HBV, you can pass the virus to others for around seven weeks. You should conduct another test approximately 15 weeks after symptoms begin to determine whether your acute hepatitis B has turned chronic. If it hasn’t, you will test negative for HBsAg.
Additionally, hepatitis B outside the body can still infect you for up to seven days. It’s important to take precautions when handling needles or other bodily fluids, even if the person they came from doesn’t believe they have hepatitis B.
How Tests Detect the Hepatitis B Virus
The only way to test for hepatitis B is through a blood test. These tests look for hepatitis B in a few different forms:
- Hepatitis B antigens, which the virus or bacteria create in the body
- Hepatitis B antibodies, which your body creates to fight the infection
- Hepatitis B DNA, which is the genetic material for the virus
Blood tests will show whether you have an active infection and whether you have had hepatitis B in the past. Because the antibodies can take several weeks or months to develop, you may initially test negative for an active hepatitis B infection.
The hepatitis B test is not routine, so you will have to ask your physician for it. The CDC recommends that all adults 18 or older receive a triple-panel hepatitis test at least once in their lifetime. This test would identify hepatitis A, B, and C.
The CDC also recommends periodic testing for those with certain risk factors, such as people with a history of STDs and those who have had sexual or needle-sharing contact with an infected person. Pregnant women should receive hepatitis B testing during each pregnancy.
Prevention and Medication
Even though most people who contract HBV don’t develop chronic hepatitis B, you want to avoid this infection if possible. Taking adequate precautions will significantly decrease your likelihood of ever contracting hepatitis B.
You can reduce your risk of contracting HBV by:
- Knowing the HBV status of any sexual partners
- Never sharing needles
- Using a new condom every time you have sex, especially if you aren’t sure of your partner’s health status
Most people who recover from acute hepatitis B develop lifelong immunity to the virus, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take precautions moving forward. Many STDs pass through needles and sexual contact.
If you test positive for acute hepatitis B, you may not need treatment. Instead, your doctor may recommend getting plenty of rest, drinking fluids, and getting proper nutrition while you recover. If you experience severe symptoms of hepatitis B, your doctor may prescribe antiviral drugs or recommend a hospital stay.
You should avoid sexual contact for a solid seven weeks from when you first experience symptoms. Tell your partner to get tested for hepatitis B, and avoid sharing personal care items like toothbrushes, razor blades, syringes, and needles.
If your acute hepatitis B becomes chronic, treatment may include:
- Antiviral medications
- Interferon injections
- Liver transplant, if you experience severe liver damage
Vaccinating Against Hepatitis B
The most effective way to prevent hepatitis B is to get the vaccine. There are two different types of vaccines available.
First, the hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG) injection provides fast protection for people who believe they may have had contact with someone infected with hepatitis B. This injection is made from blood. You must receive it within seven days after contact with infected blood or 14 days after sexual contact with an infected person.
After receiving the HBIG injection, you should also receive the hepatitis B vaccine, which produces an immune response to a protein on the surface of the hepatitis B virus. This vaccine is available as either a two- or four-course injection.
Final Thoughts on Hepatitis B
So, how long does it take hepatitis B to show up on a blood test? This infection may not show up in testing for several weeks or even months after you contract it, and you may never experience any symptoms. That’s why periodic STD tests are crucial to your sexual health and the protection of your sexual partners.
If you suspect you were exposed to hepatitis B, ask your physician about a hepatitis B immune globulin injection. Then, request the hepatitis B vaccine to prevent long-term infection.
For stress-free same-day STD testing, contact Rapid STD Testing today. Our results are fast, accurate, and always confidential to give you peace of mind.