Hepatitis B is an infection of the liver caused by a virus that’s spread through blood and body fluids.
About Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B is less common in the UK than other parts of the world, but people originally from high-risk countries, people who inject drugs and people who have unprotected sex with multiple sexual partners, may all be at an increased risk.
Signs and Symptoms
In adults, it often doesn’t produce any obvious symptoms and typically goes away without treatment.
In children, it can persist for years and may cause serious liver damage.
If symptoms do develop, they may include:
- Flu-like symptoms, including tiredness, a fever, and general aches and pains
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling and being sick
- Tummy pain
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes
How is it Transmitted?
Hepatitis B can be transmitted from blood, bodily fluids, semen and vaginal fluids.
It can be spread several ways:
- By having sex with an infected person without using a condom
- From a mother to her new-born baby in places where infection is common
- By injecting drugs and sharing needles and drug equipment
- By having a tattoo, body-piercing, or medical or dental treatment in an unhygienic environment
- By sharing toothbrushes or razors contaminated with infected blood
In the UK, a hepatitis B vaccine is given to infants as part of routine childhood vaccinations. It’s also available for people at high risk of the infection.
If you have recently been exposed to the virus, emergency treatment can help stop you from becoming infected.
If you have acute hepatitis B (an infection for only a few weeks or months) you may only need treatment to relieve your symptoms.
If you have chronic hepatitis B you may be offered treatment with medicines that can reduce the risk of liver damage.
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Contacting a sexual health service for the first time can be a little daunting, so here are some easy answers to many of the questions you may have.
Is hepatitis B serious?
People with hepatitis B can sometimes develop serious liver problems if left untreated. Some of the main problems associated with hepatitis B include cirrhosis and liver cancer.
What do I do if I think I have hepatitis B?
Order a home testing kit. You could be given a dose of the hepatitis B vaccine or a preparation of antibodies that work against the hepatitis B virus and offer immediate but short-term protection until the vaccine starts to work.
Can I have a healthy pregnancy with hepatitis B?
People with hepatitis B can have a healthy pregnancy. There is a risk of pregnant women with hepatitis B passing the infection on to their child but this risk can be reduced by ensuring the baby is vaccinated once they are born.