What is hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a virus that lives and multiplies in the liver. When the body tries to get rid of the virus, the liver becomes inflamed, which can lead to liver damage.

There are two types of hepatitis B, acute and chronic.

Acute hepatitis B clears within six months. Most adults will clear the virus in this time. Some people may experience:

  • loss of appetite
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • tiredness
  • jaundice (yellowing of eyes and skin)
  • joint and stomach ache.

Chronic hepatitis B is a life-long illness. Hepatitis B is chronic if it has been in the body for more than six months. It occurs when the body cannot get rid of the virus, so it stays inside the body and can eventually lead to severe liver disease and liver cancer if left untreated. Chronic hepatitis B usually has no symptoms and that is why it is so dangerous.

Hepatitis B is NOT spread by sharing food, drinks and eating utensils with an infected person.

Hepatitis B is spread through contact with infected blood and other body fluids entering the body of someone who is not infected. People can spread hepatitis B without knowing they are infected. Hepatitis B infection can occur:

  • During childbirth –from the mother who unknowingly passes on the virus to the baby during delivery.
  • Sharing personal items that may have blood on them such as razors or toothbrushes.
  • Having unprotected sex.
  • Using unsterilised needles or equipment.
  • Direct contact with infected blood.

Find out where to get tested for hepatitis B.