Hepatitis Bisan infection of the liver caused by a virus that's spread through blood and body fluids.

It often doesn't cause any obvious symptoms in adultsand typically passes in a few months without treatment, but inchildren itoften persists for years and may eventually cause serious liver damage.

Hepatitis B is less common in the UK than other parts of the world, but certain groups are at an increased risk. This includes people originally from high-risk countries , people who inject drugs, and people who have unprotected sex with multiple sexual partners.

A hepatitis B vaccine is available for people at high risk of the condition.

This page covers:

Symptoms of hepatitis B

When to get medical advice

Treatments for hepatitis B

How hepatitis B is spread

Preventing hepatitis B

Outlook for hepatitis B

Symptoms of hepatitis B

Many people with hepatitis B won't experience any symptoms and may fight off the virus without realising they had it.

If symptoms do develop, they tend to occur two or three months after exposure to the hepatitis B virus.

Symptoms of hepatitis B include:

  • flu-like symptoms, including tiredness, a fever, and general aches and pains
  • loss of appetite
  • Vomiting in adults
  • diarrhoea
  • tummy (abdominal) pain
  • yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)

These symptoms will usually pass within one to three months (acute hepatitis B), althoughoccasionally the infection can last for six months or more (chronic hepatitis B).

How hepatitis B is spread

The hepatitis B virus is foundin theblood and bodily fluids, such as semen and vaginal fluids, of an infected person.

It can be spread by:

  • a mother to her newborn baby, particularly in countries where the infection is common read more about hepatitis B in pregnancy
  • within families (child to child) in countries where the infection is common
  • injecting drugs and sharing needles and other drug equipment, such as spoons and filters
  • having sex with an infected person without using a condom
  • having a tattoo, body piercing , or medical or dental treatment in an unhygienic environment with unsterilised equipment
  • sharing toothbrushes or razors contaminated with infected blood

Hepatitis B isn't spreadby kissing,holding hands, hugging, coughing, sneezing, or sharing crockeryand utensils.

Preventing hepatitis B

A vaccine that offers protection against hepatitis B is available for people at high risk of the infection.

This includes:

  • babies born to infected mothers
  • close family and sexual partners of someone with hepatitis B
  • peopletravelling to or from a part of the world where hepatitis B is widespread, such assub-Saharan Africa, east and southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands
  • peoplewho inject drugs or have a sexual partner who injects drugs
  • peoplewho change their sexual partner frequently
  • men who have sex with men

The hepatitis B vaccine isn't given as part of the routine vaccination schedule and sometimes you may have to pay for it.

Outlook for hepatitis B

The vast majority of people infected with hepatitis B in adulthood are able to fight off the virus and fully recover within one to three months. Most will then be immune to the infection for life.

Babies and children with hepatitis B are more likely to develop a chronic infection. Chronic hepatitis B affects around:

  • 90% of babies with hepatitis B
  • 20% of older children with hepatitis B
  • 5% of adults with hepatitis B

Although treatment can help, there's a risk that people withchronic hepatitis B could eventually develop life-threatening problems such asscarring of the liver (cirrhosis) or liver cancer .


Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 29 Nov 2016