Hepatitis B is serious bloodborne infection, caused by the Hepatitis B virus (HBV), that affects the liver. Hepatitis B is passed on in infected blood or bodily fluids that contain blood.
Most adults infected with Hepatitis B can fight off the infection and fully recover within a few months. People infected in childhood may develop a long-term infection.
The Hepatitis B virus can be transmitted through infected blood, saliva, semen, and vaginal secretions. It can be passed on through having unprotected sexual intercourse, shared or unclean needles, tattoos, piercings, passed to an unborn baby from an infected pregnant woman, or through blood transfusions (although this is rare in the UK).
Anyone can get Hepatitis B, but some people are at greater risk of infection:
- people travelling to a part of the world where Hepatitis B is widespread
- people whose job puts them at risk of coming into contact with blood or body fluids, such as nurses, doctors, dentists and laboratory staff
- people who often change their sexual partner(s)
- people who inject drugs or have a sexual partner who injects drugs
- men who have sex with men
- babies born to mothers with Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B can lead to serious health complications affecting the liver, including hepatitis (inflammation), fibrosis (thickening or scarring), cirrhosis (scarring caused by long-term damage) liver failure or liver cancer. Hepatitis B can also lead death.
It can take between 40 and 160 days for symptoms to develop after exposure to the virus, so some people may be unaware that they are infected, however some people may develop an acute illness lasting several weeks.
Hepatitis causes a chronic infection, typically lasting up to 3 months. However, in some cases, it can last for more than 6 months.
Common symptoms of Hepatitis B include:
- fever (high temperature)
- pain in the stomach
- feeling or being sick
- hives (patches of raised skin that may be itchy)
- jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
What you can do
If you have any symptoms of Hepatitis B, or think you may have the virus even if you do not have any symptoms, speak to your GP to get advice and support with testing, diagnosis, and treatment.
Pregnant women should be offered screening for Hepatitis B as part of their routine antenatal screening. If you are pregnant and have not been offered Hepatitis B screening, please speak to your GP or midwife.
There are several steps that can be taken to avoid catching or passing on Hepatitis B to others, including:
- getting your baby vaccinated
- babies are routinely offered the Hepatitis B vaccination as part of the 6 in 1 vaccination at 4, 8, 12 and 16 weeks of age, plus a final dose when they're 1 year old
- vaccination against Hepatitis B - this is also recommended for people at higher risk of contracting the infection, as mentioned at the top of the page
- use a condom or dam when having vaginal, anal, or oral sex
- avoid sharing items such as razors, toothbrushes, needles, syringes, and other injecting equipment that could contain contaminated blood or bodily fluids
Last updated 25 January 2024