Hepatitis B

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WHAT IS HEPATITIS B?

Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis can be caused by drinking large amounts of alcohol, taking drugs or medications that cause inflammation to the liver or by becoming infected with a virus.The different types of viruses that cause Hepatitis are known by different letters: Hepatitis A, B, C, D and E and are sometimes shortened to Hep A, Hep B and Hep C etc.

An estimated 232 000 people are living in Australia in with Hepatitis B infection. Hepatitis B infection can have serious health effects.

HOW DO YOU GET HEPATITIS B?

The Hepatitis B virus is found in blood and to a lesser degree other bodily fluids such as semen, vaginal secretions and saliva. You can get Hepatitis B when the blood or body fluids of a person with Hepatitis B enters your blood stream or body, this can occur through the following activities:

  • Mother to child: from a mother with Hepatitis B to her baby during pregnancy and delivery 
  • Unsafe vaginal or anal sex (not wearing condoms)
  • Sharing equipment used for injecting drug use
  • Skin piercing and tattoos with equipment that is not cleaned and sterilized properly
  • Sharing razor blades or toothbrushes with someone who has the virus
  • The blood from a person with Hepatitis B coming into contact with an open cut or wound of a person who does not have the virus 

All blood and blood products produced for medical purposes in Australia are carefully screened for Hepatitis B and other blood-borne viruses.

WHAT ARE THE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF HEPATITIS B?

Many people who become infected with Hepatitis B show no signs of infection. Children are less likely to have symptoms than adults. If symptoms are present they often last only a few weeks and may include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting and tiredness. In more severe cases additional symptoms of pain in the liver and joints, fever, and yellowing of the eyes and skin known as jaundice can occur.

Most adults infected with Hepatitis B completely recover and do not become infected again.

LONG TERM HEPATITIS B

About 5% of adults who become infected with the Hepatitis B virus develop long term (chronic) Hepatitis B infection. Chronic infection means the virus stays in the bloodstream for a person’s entire life. A person with chronic Hepatitis B may ‘carry’ (and transmit) the virus for life without showing any signs or symptoms and may not know they have it. Chronic infection increases the risk of a person developing cirrhosis and cancer of the liver in later life.

HOW DO YOU TEST FOR HEPATITIS B?

A blood test can be performed to determine if you have been infected with Hepatitis B.

HOW DO YOU PREVENT GETTING HEPATITIS B?
  • Immunisation is the best protection against Hepatitis B and is recommended for everyone. 
  • Practice safe sex by using condoms every time you have anal or vaginal sex
  • Never share needles, syringes and other injecting equipment such as spoons, swabs or water if you are injecting drugs. Always use sterile needles and syringes which are available through Needle and Syringe programs and some chemists and always wash your hands before and after injecting 
  • Wear gloves if providing first aid or cleaning up blood or body fluids
IMMUNISATION INFORMATION

For adults a full course of Hepatitis B vaccination consists of 3 doses over six months. All 3 doses are required to give 90% protection.

Immunisation for Hepatitis B is recommended and available for in Victoria on the National Immunisation Program Schedule for the following groups:

  • All babies
  • Children born after 1st May 2000 who have not received a course of Hepatitis B vaccine
  • Children in year 7 via a school based program who have not received a course of Hepatitis B vaccine
  • 'Catch-up’ for adolescents in secondary school who missed the Year 7 Hepatitis B course and are over 15 years of age
  • People who inject drugs
  • People who have been in prison
  • People who have a chronic liver disease or Hepatitis C 

People from the following groups are also recommended to be vaccinated against Hepatitis B

  • Men who have sex with men
  • People who have a sexual partner with Hepatitis B
  • People who live with someone who has Hepatitis B
  • Someone having kidney dialysis
  • People with HIV and other immunosuppressed adults
  • A person receiving blood products
  • A resident or staff member at a facility for people with intellectual disabilities
  • People adopting children from overseas
  • Health-care workers, dentists, embalmers, tattooists and body-piercers

Side effects of the Hepatitis B vaccination are uncommon. If present they may include:

  • Nausea, mild fever 
  • Soreness, redness and swelling in the area where the injection was given
  • Joint pain 
WHAT IF YOU’VE BEEN EXPOSED TO HEPATITIS B?

See your doctor immediately. In some instances your doctor may be able to give you treatment which greatly reduces the risk of you becoming infected.

WHAT TREATMENTS ARE AVAILABLE FOR HEPATITIS B?

If your body ‘clears’ the virus itself you will require no further treatment. If you develop chronic Hepatitis B you should discuss treatment options and life style changes with your doctor. Antiviral medications are available to try and clear the virus and reduce liver damage. Your doctor may also refer you to a liver specialist and regularly monitor your health.

WHERE CAN I GET FURTHER HELP AND INFORMATION ON HEPATITIS B?

    DISCLAIMER:
    This fact sheet is designed to provide you with information on Hepatitis B. It is not intended to replace the need for a consultation with your doctor. All clients are strongly advised to check with their doctor about any specific questions or concerns they may have. Every effort has been taken to ensure that the information in this pamphlet is correct at the time of printing.
    Last Updated November 2017