What is hepatitis B?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Hepatitis B is a contagious liver disease that ranges in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness. It results from infection with the Hepatitis B virus.”

It can be contracted in a variety of ways, often through unprotected sex or intravenous illegal drug use.

Symptoms include abdominal pain, dark urine, fever, joint pain, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting and jaundice.

It is diagnosed by a blood test.

Source: CDC

Three people have been diagnosed with acute hepatitis B and 23 more are potentially at risk of contracting the virus after a North Charleston clinic injected them with common medications in February, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control reports.

The health department has issued a public health order against the Tri-County Spinal Care Center on Dorchester Road in North Charleston. The source of the virus has not yet been identified.

The clinic also operates offices in Summerville and West Ashley, but a DHEC spokesman confirmed those locations are not affected by the order, which prohibits the Tri-County Spinal Care Center from performing any invasive procedures at the North Charleston office until “the facility no longer poses a threat to the public health.”

DHEC reports that all three patients who have been diagnosed “received spinal injections with common medications performed on the same dates in February 2013” at Tri-County Spinal Care Center.

The state is notifying 23 other patients who it believes could also be at risk for hepatitis B because they received similar injections at the clinic on the same days.

The center did not respond to a call for comment on Tuesday.

Hepatitis B, which can clear itself naturally or develop into a lifelong, chronic condition, is a communicable virus that affects the liver and is often spread by unprotected sex, explained Joanna Sarver, infections prevention coordinator at East Cooper Medical Center.

Infants and health care workers are now commonly vaccinated for the virus through a series of shots. Infection from a tainted medical injection is rare, she said.

“That usually is associated with improper equipment cleaning,” Sarver said. “Especially in a community setting, it’s very, very important that all equipment be properly sterilized.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hepatitis B symptoms include fever, fatigue, nausea, joint pain and dark urine.

“The most telltale sign is the yellowing of the skin — jaundice,” Sarver said. “That’s the big clue.”

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.