What is hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a serious disease that causes your liver to become inflamed. It can lead to liver disease, liver cancer and death.

Hepatitis B is not the same as hepatitis A or C, which have different causes, symptoms and treatments.

Hepatitis B is caused by the hepatitis B virus.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis B?

People generally start to show symptoms between 60 to 90 days after catching hepatitis B. This can range from 45 days to 180 days.

Hepatitis B symptoms include:

  • loss of appetite
  • fatigue
  • nausea and vomiting
  • rashes
  • pain in the right-hand side of the stomach area
  • fever
  • sore joints
  • jaundice (yellow skin and eyes).

Most people recover completely. Some people have long-lasting effects, which can lead to liver disease (including cirrhosis), liver cancer and death.

People who are infected with hepatitis B when they are children are more likely to have serious liver disease later in life.

Some people who have recovered from hepatitis B can still carry the virus, meaning they can pass the virus to others even though they don’t show any symptoms.

Who is at risk from hepatitis B?

Anyone who is not vaccinated can get hepatitis B. The people most at risk from hepatitis B are those who:

  • have unprotected sex
  • come in contact with other people’s blood and other body fluids
  • inject drugs with shared needles.

Mothers who have hepatitis B can also pass the virus to their babies during birth.

How do you get hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is found in blood and other body fluids. It can spread when:

  • you have unprotected sex with an infected person
  • you share needles or piercing equipment with an infected person
  • you share a toothbrush or drink bottle with an infected person
  • an infected mother gives birth to a baby
  • an infected child bites another child
  • you are exposed in another way to the blood, semen, vaginal fluids or saliva of an infected person.

How do you prevent hepatitis B?

Vaccination is a safe and effective way to protect you against hepatitis B.

For more information on hepatitis B immunisation, see Hepatitis B immunisation service.

Other ways to prevent hepatitis B infection include:

  • using condoms during sex
  • covering any open wounds or cuts with a waterproof dressing
  • not sharing personal items like toothbrushes and razors
  • only going to piercing and tattoo studios that are registered and use proper sterilisation techniques
  • using gloves when helping with first aid.

It is safe for someone with hepatitis B to go to childcare, school, work or other places if you follow these practices.

How do you know you have hepatitis B?

If you think you or one of your family members has hepatitis B, see your doctor.

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and whether you have been in contact with someone who has hepatitis B. If your doctor thinks you have hepatitis B, they can do a blood test to confirm the diagnosis.

How do you get treated for hepatitis B?

There is no specific treatment for hepatitis B, and many people get better on their own. To relieve symptoms:

  • drink plenty of fluids
  • get enough rest
  • eat a healthy diet
  • avoid alcohol.

People with chronic hepatitis B may need medicine to treat the virus. If you have chronic hepatitis B, follow the advice from your medical team about monitoring your disease and staying healthy.

People who develop liver cancer from hepatitis B will need specialist treatment.

More information

Contacts

If you need advice or more information about immunisation, go to our Immunisation contacts page.

Last updated: 
4 June 2018