Hepatitis B (HBV) is a disease that attacks the liver. It can be mild, involving a few weeks of illness followed by recovery, or it can be acute, involving chronic sickness that can result in liver damage or even liver cancer. HBV is spread through certain bodily secretions, like blood or semen, but not others like saliva and sweat. It's a very common disease, infecting an estimated 40,000 Americans every year, according to the U.S. Army Public Health Command. It is 50 to 100 times more infectious than HIV. Because it's such a communicable disease, the Army takes HBV seriously.
When you're going through the Military Entrance Processing Station, you submit to a thorough medical examination that includes blood testing and a medical history report. HBV may not necessarily prevent you from entering the Army, says Military.com, but it certainly raises a red flag. The Army is going to worry that your ability to perform your job may be impaired and that you could spread the disease to someone else. Even if you've had HBV in the past but have fully recovered from it, it's best to let your recruiter know. He's in a good position to tell you if your current condition can bar you from the Army permanently or just be a temporary setback.
Almost 95 percent of all infected people recover within a few months, says the Military Vaccine Agency, and are thereafter immune to the disease. They can no longer catch it, nor are they a carrier of it. This is why HBV may not necessarily prevent you from entering the Army. That final 5 percent, however, contracts acute HBV, making it a recurrent problem that debilitates them on a regular basis. Being diagnosed with acute HBV may very well permanently bar you from joining the Army.
If you've tested negative for HBV, getting a vaccination is the smartest way to go. Vaccinations immunize you against ever catching the disease. In fact, the Army routinely vaccinates all of its new recruits, according to the Military Vaccine Agency. The vaccine has been found to be 95 percent effective. It's most commonly administered in three rounds, with the second round following the first by one month and the third following the second by six months.
If you're already a member of the Army, whether as an enlisted soldier or a commissioned officer, and you contract HBV, you still have the chance to remain on active duty. You won't be eligible for deployment, says the U.S. Army Public Health Command, while your condition is being evaluated. If your symptoms become serious or it looks as though you may have contracted acute HBV, you will be examined by a Medical Evaluation Board.
- Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images