Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B a virus that can infect and damage the liver.

How is it passed on?

Hepatitis B is carried in the blood. It is usually transmitted through blood to blood contact, such as:

  • Sharing needles when injecting drugs.
  • A cut in the skin that comes into contact with infected blood.
  • Use of unsterilized equipment when getting a tattoo/body piercing.
  • Sharing razors or toothbrushes that are contaminated with infected blood.

It can be transmitted through sex, although this is rare and can be prevented by using a condom. However, it is 50 - 100 times more infectious than HIV.

A pregnant person can pass a Hepatitis B infection to their newborn child, but the infection can be prevented if the baby is vaccinated immediately after birth.


During the early stage of infection there may not be any symptoms. If symptoms do develop, this is usually within the first six months after infection. Those who do get symptoms may experience:

  • Flu-like symptoms, such as muscle aches and loss of appetite, high temperature
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Depression
  • One in five people with Hepatitis B will experience yellowing of the eyes and skin, also known as jaundice
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Sickness and diarrhoea

Long term effects

Most people clear the virus after the initial stage and are then immune to the infection. These people will not be infectious.

However, some people’s bodies cannot clear the virus and so they will develop a long term infection called chronic Hepatitis. Hepatitis B can lead to problems with your liver, including scarring of the liver (cirrhosis), often years after catching the infection.


You should seek immediate medical advice if you think you have been exposed to Hepatitis B. It is possible to prevent infection with treatment, but to be most effective it should be given in the first 48 hours after exposure.

Hepatitis B can be managed at home in the early stages, using over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol. You may be prescribed codeine if the pain is more severe.

If you have chronic Hepatitis B, you will be symptom-free for much of the time. However, you may need to take medication to prevent liver damage and have regular tests done. There are now very effective medications that can suppress the virus over many years.

Telling your partner

If you are diagnosed with Hepatitis B you should tell anyone who you may have had blood to blood contact with, or had unprotected sex with, since you became infected so they can get tested. In some cases this may be hard to work out, so it is best to discuss the risk to others with your doctor.

How to avoid Hepatitis B

  • Never share any drug-injecting equipment with other people (not just needles, but also syringes, spoons and filters).
  • Don’t get tattoos or piercings from unlicensed places.
  • Don't share razors, toothbrushes or towels that might be contaminated with blood.
  • Use a condom, especially with new partners, for anal and oral sex.


The Hepatitis B vaccine is available on the NHS, and is recommended for people who are at risk of infection. This includes people who inject drugs, sex workers, men who have sex with men, and people whose partners or close family have the virus.


Where can I get tested for Hepatitis B?

You should go to a sexual health clinic if you have unusual symptoms that persist for more than a few days. You can also get tested for Hepatitis B at your GP or a drug treatment service. The clinician will take a simple blood test.

How long after infection does Hepatitis B show up in tests?

Test results are most accurate four weeks after exposure.

Should the Hepatitis B vaccine protect me for the rest of my life?

No, you will need to check your levels of immunity some years after vaccination. The health care professional who gives you the vaccine will advise you when your immunity levels need checking.

Where can I go to get a Hepatitis A/B vaccine?

You can get vaccinated at your GP, a sexual health clinic or an occupational health department (if your occupation puts you at risk of infection).

Are there any side effects from the Hepatitis B vaccine?

Side effects are rare, but you should contact the person who gave you the vaccine at once if you have any serious side effects such as:

  • Fever, sore throat and headache with a severe blistering, peeling, and red skin rash
  • Irritability
  • Fast or pounding heartbeats
  • Easy bruising or bleeding

Less serious side effects include:

  • Redness, pain, swelling, or a lump where the injection was given
  • Headache, dizziness
  • Low fever
  • Joint pain, body aches
  • Tiredness
  • Nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, constipation, diarrhoea

What is antiviral medication?

Antiviral medication usually acts to prevent a virus from multiplying.

Will my partner be able to tell if I have Hepatitis B?

They may be able to tell if you have symptoms of infection, but many people don't have symptoms, meaning their partners wont be able to tell. However, you should tell your partner if you have Hepatitis B as they will need testing and may need treatment.

Does Hepatitis B affect fertility?

No, Hepatitis B doesn't affect fertility.