Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is serious and common infectious disease, affecting millions of people throughout the world.


  • Unprotected sexual contact (vaginal, anal & oral sex).
  • Mother to child at birth (transmission is common but the baby can be protected by being vaccinated immediately and breastfeeding is allowed if there are no cracked nipples).
  • Sharing contaminated drug using equipment e.g. needles, snorting equipment etc.
  • Blood to blood contact e.g. blood transfusions etc. (only in countries where blood is not screened).
  • Exposure to other body fluids e.g. saliva (but not usually through kissing).
  • Using contaminated personal hygiene items e.g. toothbrushes, razors, nail clippers etc.

Hepatitis B Facts

Hepatitis B can live outside the body on surfaces for up to 7 days and is considered 100 times more infectious than HIV.

Phases of Hepatitis B infection:

There are two main phases of Hepatitis B: acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term).

  • Acute Hepatitis B:  90% of people get an acute version of Hepatitis B, that is to say that they clear the virus naturally from their bodies within 6 months.   They usually develop immunity to Hepatitis B for life.
  • Chronic Hepatitis B: 10% of people do not clear the Hepatitis B virus from their bodies naturally and go on to develop a long-term infection.  A large proportion of people with chronic Hepatitis B do very well but in some people the virus progresses quickly and can result in cirrhosis (widespread scarring of the liver), cancer, liver failure and even death.


Treatment is available for hepatitis B.  Chronic hepatitis B infection is usually treated with alpha/pegylated interferon to help prevent further liver damage; however, not everyone can take interferon due to serious side effects.  There are some other treatment options available in this instance.  Treatment usually lasts a number of months during which time the patient will be carefully monitored.



  • Vaccine – there is a safe and effective vaccine available for Hepatitis B.  It is available either on its own or in conjunction with Hepatitis A.
  • Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) – emergency treatment is available within 72 hours for anyone who has been exposed to Hepatitis B.  PEP can prevent the hepatitis B virus establishing itself in the blood stream.  It is available in most Accident and Emergencies and Sexual Health Clinics.
  • Safer sex.
  • Safer drug using practices.
  • Do not share contaminated personal grooming items e.g. toothbrushes, nail clippers.
  • Safe cleaning of body fluids – e.g. using gloves, bleach, safe disposal methods.
  • Education.