About Hepatitis B

B Aware: B Tested, B Vaccinated, B Treated. Ask your doctor.

What is hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is an acute infection of the liver. It is usually spread through contaminated blood via sexual intercourse, needle sharing, blood transfusions and injections. The virus can also be passed from mother to baby. Tattooing, body piercing and acupuncture are other ways in which the virus may be spread.

Hepatitis B can be either “acute” or “chronic.”

Acute hepatitis B virus infection is a short-term illness that occurs within the first 6 months after someone is exposed to the hepatitis B virus. Acute infection can - but does not always - lead to chronic infection.

Chronic hepatitis B virus infection is a long-term illness that occurs when the hepatitis B virus remains in a person’s body.

Is hepatitis B a serious issue in Wales?

Although numbers are small in Wales compared with other parts of the world, 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.

Who gets hepatitis B in Wales?

As the virus may be transmitted by contact with blood or body fluids from an infected person, certain people may be at a higher risk of acquiring hepatitis B.

These include:

  • Those coming into contact with blood products i.e. healthcare workers, prison officers;
  • Sexual partners and close family and household contacts of an infected person;
  • Injecting drug users who share needles;
  • People who change sexual partners frequently;
  • People visiting countries where hepatitis B is common;
  • Babies born to infected mothers;

How can I tell if someone has hepatitis B?

Many people with hepatitis B infection don’t know they are infected as they have no symptoms at all. Others may experience a range of symptoms when they are first infected.

These may include:

  • Flu-like illness;
  • Extreme tiredness;
  • Loss of appetite;
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice);
  • Dark urine.

Anyone with the infection can pass it on to others, even if they don’t have any symptoms or don’t know they are infected. Hepatitis B infection is usually identified by a blood test.

There is no cure for hepatitis B yet but there is some treatment which may help to stop the liver damage from getting worse and the virus from multiplying. The effectiveness of this treatment differs between individuals.

You can find out more regarding treating hepatitis B on the NHS Direct Wales website.

How can you get 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 by:

  • 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;
  • Injecting drugs and sharing needles and other drug equipment, such as spoons and filters;
  • 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.

Hepatitis B is NOT spread by kissing, holding hands, hugging, coughing, sneezing, or sharing crockery and utensils.

You can read more about the causes of hepatitis B on the NHS Direct Wales website.

How do I protect myself from hepatitis B?

Ways of reducing your risk of getting hepatitis B infection include:

  • Avoid having unprotected sexual intercourse, especially if you change partners frequently;
  • Make certain that needles used for drugs, piercing and tattooing are sterile - do not share;
  • Do not share razors, toothbrushes or pierced jewellery with anyone;
  • Wear gloves when touching or cleaning up blood/body fluids of others;
  • Wash your hands and any skin that has come into contact with any blood/skin;
  • Cover all open cuts or wounds;
  • Have the hepatitis B vaccination if you think you are at risk of getting hepatitis B infection.

How do I protect others from getting hepatitis B?

If you have hepatitis B, it's also important to try to reduce the risk of others getting the infection from you.

You should:

  • Avoid having unprotected sex - including anal and oral sex, unless you're sure your partner has been vaccinated against hepatitis B;
  • Avoid sharing needles used to inject drugs with other people;
  • Take precautions to avoid the spread of infection - such as not sharing toothbrushes or razors with other people; close contacts such as family members may need to be vaccinated;
  • Eat a generally healthy, balanced diet – there's no special diet for people with hepatitis B;
  • Avoid drinking alcohol - this can increase your risk of developing serious liver problems;
  • Speak to your doctor if you're thinking of having a baby.

Any close contacts, such as people who live in the same house as you, may be advised to have the hepatitis B vaccine to reduce their risk of becoming infected.

You can find out about treating yourself and protecting others from hepatitis B on the NHS Direct Wales website.

If I think I’ve put myself at risk of hepatitis B what should I do?

You should go and get advice from your GP or at your local sexual health clinic.

Where can I go for advice and support about if I am worried about hepatitis B?

NHS Direct Wales has extensive information about hepatitis B on its website. You can also seek advice from your GP or at your local sexual health clinic.

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