What is it?
Hepatitis B is an infection caused by the hepatitis B virus. The virus is found in the blood and bodily fluids of an infected person. Many people with hepatitis B have few symptoms and may not know they're infected. They may spread the infection without realising it. Hepatitis B is less common in the UK than other parts of the world, but certain groups are at an increased risk. Hepatitis B is most often caught in parts of the world where the infection is more common, although certain groups of people are at risk of picking up the infection in the UK. This includes people originally from high-risk countries, people who inject drugs, and people who have unprotected sex with multiple sexual partners. A Hepatitis B vaccine is available for people at high risk of the condition.
How do I get it?
- Mother to baby, particularly in countries where the infection is common – all pregnant women in the UK are offered screening for hepatitis B; babies of infected mothers are vaccinated immediately after birth to help prevent infection
- injecting drugs and sharing needles and other drug equipment, such as spoons and filters
- having sex with an infected person without using a condom
- having a tattoo, body piercing, or medical or dental treatment in an unhygienic environment with unsterilized equipment
- having a blood transfusion in a country where blood is not tested for hepatitis B – all blood donations in the UK are now tested for the infection
- sharing toothbrushes or razors contaminated with infected blood
- the skin being accidentally punctured by a used needle (needle stick injury) – this is mainly a risk for healthcare workers
- the blood of someone with hepatitis B getting into an open wound, cut or scratch – in rare cases, being bitten by someone with hepatitis B can also spread the infection
You cannot get Hepatitis B by kissing, holding hands, hugging, coughing, sneezing or sharing crockery and utensils.
Signs and Symptoms
Only some people with Hepatitis B experience symptoms, which usually develop 2 or 3 months after exposure to the hepatitis B virus.
Symptoms of hepatitis B can include:
- general aches and pains
- high temperature
- a general sense of feeling unwell
- loss of appetite
- feeling and being sick
- tummy pain
- yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
- dark urine and pale, grey-coloured poo
Many of these symptoms can be mistaken for more common illnesses, such as flu or gastroenteritis. Many people infected in adulthood will not experience any symptoms and will fight off the infection without realising they had it. But they'll still be able to pass the virus on to others while they're infected.
Hepatitis B is tested usually from a blood sample.
Treatment for hepatitis B depends on how long you have been infected for:
- short-term (acute) hepatitis B does not usually need specific treatment, but may require treatment to relieve the symptoms
- long-term (chronic) hepatitis B is often treated with medication to keep the virus under control
Emergency treatment can also be given soon after possible exposure to the hepatitis B virus to stop an infection developing.
Further Guidance: Hepatitis B