Hepatitis B is a virus that affects the liver. It is transmitted through sex and through blood-to-blood contact. It is prevented through vaccination, safe sex, and safe injecting. People at higher risk should be vaccinated.
Last updated: 26 June 2008
What is Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis is a disease that causes inflammation or swelling of the liver. Hepatitis B is one of the viruses that cause this condition. The other hepatitis viruses are also named with a letter, for example: hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
In Australia, up to 400 cases of hepatitis B are detected each year with about 1 person in every 100 having evidence of past exposure to the virus.
What are the symptoms?
Many people who contract hepatitis B don't notice any symptoms or may have only mild symptoms that clear in a few weeks.
When symptoms are noticed, they usually develop within three months and can include a mild flu-like illness, nausea, dark urine, vomiting, loss of appetite, fatigue, general aches and pains, and yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice).
Most adults who have hepatitis B recover or 'clear' the infection. They develop lifelong immunity and are no longer infectious.
About 5% to 10% of people remain infectious for many years. This is known as chronic hepatitis B infection. Even though they may look and feel well, people with chronic hepatitis B carry the infection and can transmit it to others. Chronic hepatitis B infection slowly damages the liver so a small number of people with this condition may suffer liver failure or cancer of the liver.
How is it spread?
The hepatitis B virus is spread when body fluids (blood, semen, saliva or vaginal fluid) from an infected person enter the blood stream of another person. This can occur in different ways:
Who is at risk?
The people who are most at risk of catching Hepatitis B are unvaccinated people who:
How is it prevented?
The best way to prevent the spread of hepatitis B is to get vaccinated. Hepatitis B vaccination is available for everyone, including children, through your local doctor. It is also available at sexual health clinics for some people at higher risk of infection. The vaccination consists of 3 injections over 6 months. It is safe and reliable.
To reduce the risk of transmission among unvaccinated people:
If you have been exposed to hepatitis B, see your doctor immediately. An injection of a drug called immunoglobulin can be given after hepatitis B exposure that may prevent the infection taking hold. The drug must be taken within 72 hours of a needle stick injury or shared injecting incident, and within 14 days after a possible sexual exposure.
How is it diagnosed?
Hepatitis B is detected by a blood test. Blood tests can show if a person has a recent infection, has a chronic infection or has had hepatitis B in the past but is no longer infectious. Blood tests can also be done to check for damage to the liver.
How is it treated?
There is no cure for hepatitis B, which is why vaccination is very important. People in the initial stages of infection need to rest, drink plenty of fluids and avoid alcohol and other drugs. Recovery can take some months.
Immunoglobulin injections may help prevent infection if given soon after exposure (see above). There are treatments available to manage chronic hepatitis B. Your doctor may refer you to a specialist to discuss treatment.
What advice should be given to people who are carriers of hepatitis B?
• Always use condoms with new sex partners.
What is the public health response?
Hepatitis B can be infectious for 6 months before the symptoms are noticeable. If you have been diagnosed with hepatitis B it is important to tell anyone you may have infected so they can also be treated with immunoglobulin and so they do not infect others. Your doctor or sexual health clinic can help you decide who may be at risk and help you to contact them. If you wish, this can be done anonymously by your doctor.
Sexual Health Information Line (02) 9382 7440 or Freecall 1800 451 624 (outside Sydney).
|Further information - Public Health Units in NSW|
|For more information please contact your doctor, local public health unit or community health centre - look under NSW Government at the front of the White Pages|
|Metropolitan Areas||Location||Number||Rural Areas||Location||Number|
|Northern Sydney||Hornsby||02 9477 9400||Greater Southern||Goulburn||02 4824 1837|
|Central Coast||Gosford||02 4349 4845||Albury||02 6080 8900|
|South Eastern Sydney||Randwick||02 9382 8333||Greater Western||Broken Hill||08 8080 1499|
|Illawarra Shoalhaven||Wollongong||02 4221 6700||Dubbo||02 6841 5569|
|Sydney South West||Camperdown||02 9515 9420||Bathurst||02 6339 5601|
|Sydney West||Penrith||02 4734 2022||Hunter/New England||Newcastle||02 4924 6477|
|Parramatta||02 9840 3603||Tamworth||02 6764 8000|
|Justice Health Service||Matraville||02 9311 2707||North Coast||Port Macquarie||02 6588 2750|
|Lismore||02 6620 7585|