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Hepatitis B is an 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 adults and typically passes in a few months without treatment. But in children, it often 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.
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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:
These symptoms will usually pass within one to three months (acute hepatitis B), although occasionally the infection can last for six months or more (chronic hepatitis B).
Read more about the symptoms of hepatitis B.
Hepatitis B can be serious, so you should get medical advice if:
A blood test can be carried out to check if you have hepatitis B or have had it in the past. The hepatitis B vaccine may also be recommended to reduce your risk of infection.
Treatment for hepatitis B depends on how long you've been infected for:
Chronic hepatitis B often requires long-term or lifelong treatment and regular monitoring to check for any further liver problems.
Read more about treating hepatitis B.
The hepatitis B virus is found in the blood and bodily fluids, such as semen and vaginal fluids, of an infected person.
It can be spread:
Hepatitis B is not spread by kissing, holding hands, hugging, coughing, sneezing, or sharing crockery and utensils.
Read more about the causes of hepatitis B.
A vaccine that offers protection against hepatitis B is available for all babies born in the UK on or after August 1 2017. It is also available for people at high risk of the infection or complications from it.
The hepatitis B vaccine is given to infants as part of the routine child vaccination schedule and to those who are at high risk of developing the infection.
You do not need to pay for the vaccine if your child is eligible to receive it as part of the routine child vaccination schedule or if born to a hepatitis B-infected mother. Others may have to pay for it.
Read more about hepatitis B vaccination.
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:
Read more about complications of hepatitis B.
Only some people with hepatitis B experience symptoms, which usually develop two or three months after exposure to the hepatitis B virus.
Many people infected in adulthood won't experience any symptoms and will fight off the infection without realising they had it.
However, they'll still be able to pass the virus on to others while they're infected.
Read more about how hepatitis B is spread.
Symptoms of hepatitis B can include:
Hepatitis B in adults will usually pass within one to three months. This is known as acute hepatitis B and rarely causes any serious problems.
Occasionally, the infection can last for six months or more. This is known as chronic hepatitis B.
Chronic hepatitis B mainly affects babies and young children who get hepatitis B. It's much less common in people who become infected later in childhood or when they're an adult.
The symptoms of chronic hepatitis B are the same as those mentioned above, but they tend to be quite mild and may come and go. Some people may not have any noticeable symptoms.
However, without treatment, people with chronic hepatitis B can develop problems such as scarring of the liver (cirrhosis).
Hepatitis B is an infection caused by the hepatitis B virus. The virus is found in the blood and bodily fluids of an infected person.
Many people with hepatitis B have few symptoms and may not know they're infected. They may spread the infection without realising it.
Hepatitis B is most often caught in parts of the world where the infection is more common, although certain groups of people are at risk of picking up the infection in the UK.
Hepatitis B can be spread by:
Hepatitis B isn't spread by kissing, holding hands, hugging, coughing, sneezing, or sharing crockery and utensils.
People at highest risk of hepatitis B include:
The risk of getting hepatitis B for travellers going to places where the infection is common is generally considered to be low if the activities mentioned above are avoided.
Your GP can arrange for you to have a blood test to check for hepatitis B and have the hepatitis B vaccination if you're at a high risk.
Hepatitis B is found throughout the world, but is particularly common in:
Most new cases of hepatitis B in the UK occur in people who caught the infection in one of these areas before moving to the UK.
Treatment for hepatitis B depends on how long you've been infected for:
Emergency treatment can also be given soon after possible exposure to the hepatitis B virus to stop an infection developing.
See your GP as soon as possible if you think you may have been exposed to the hepatitis B virus.
To help stop you becoming infected, they can give you:
These are most effective if given within 48 hours after possible exposure to hepatitis B, but you can still have them up to a week after exposure.
If you're diagnosed with hepatitis B, your GP will usually refer you to a specialist, such as a hepatologist (liver specialist).
Many people don't have any troublesome symptoms, but if you do feel unwell, it can help to:
Most people recover completely in a couple of months, but you'll be advised to have regular blood tests to check that you're free of the virus and haven't developed chronic hepatitis B.
If blood tests show that you still have hepatitis B after six months, your doctor may recommend medication to reduce the risk of complications of hepatitis B and regular tests to assess the health of your liver.
Treatment is usually offered if:
Hepatitis B medications can help keep the virus under control and stop it damaging your liver, although they won't necessarily cure the infection and some people need lifelong treatment.
The main medicines for chronic hepatitis B are outlined below.
If your liver is working fairly well, the first treatment offered is usually a medicine called peginterferon alfa 2-a.
This stimulates the immune system to attack the hepatitis B virus and regain control over it. It's usually given by injection once a week for 48 weeks.
Common side effects include flu-like symptoms, such as a fever and muscle and joint pain, after you start to take the medicine, although these should improve with time.
Tests will be carried out during treatment to see how well it's working. Alternative medicines may be recommended if it's not helping.
If your liver isn't working well, or peginterferon alpha-2a is not suitable or not working for you, your doctor may recommend trying antiviral medication instead.
This will usually be either tenofovir or entecavir, both of which are taken as tablets.
Common side effects of these medicines include feeling sick, vomiting and dizziness.
If you have hepatitis, you should:
People with hepatitis B can usually have a healthy pregnancy, but it's a good idea to discuss your plans with a doctor first as you may need extra care and your medications may need to be changed.
There's a risk of pregnant women with hepatitis B passing the infection on to their child around the time of the birth, but this risk can be reduced by ensuring the baby is vaccinated shortly after they're born.
People with hepatitis B can sometimes develop serious liver problems. These mostly affect people with an untreated long-term (chronic) infection.
Some of the main problems associated with hepatitis B are outlined below.
Scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) affects around one in five people with chronic hepatitis B, often many years after they first got the infection.
Cirrhosis doesn't usually cause any noticeable symptoms until extensive damage to the liver has occurred, when it can cause:
There's currently no cure for cirrhosis, although it's possible to manage the symptoms and slow its progression. If the liver becomes severely damaged, a liver transplant may be needed.
Read more about the treatments for cirrhosis.
People with cirrhosis caused by hepatitis B have around a 1 in 20 chance of developing liver cancer every year.
Symptoms of liver cancer include:
Treatment for liver cancer may involve surgery to remove the affected section of liver, a procedure to destroy the cancerous cells, or a liver transplant.
Read more about the treatments for liver cancer.
In less than 1 in 100 cases, short-term (acute) hepatitis B can lead to a serious problem called fulminant hepatitis B.
This is where the immune system attacks the liver and causes extensive damage to it.
It can lead to symptoms such as:
Fulminant hepatitis B can cause the liver to stop working properly and is often fatal if not treated quickly.