In most adults, hepatitis B doesn’t cause any symptoms and typically passes in a few months without treatment. However, in others hepatitis B can become chronic and they might need an ongoing treatment.
Key things to know
Hepatitis B is less common in the UK than other parts of the world, but certain groups are still at an increased risk.
The risk of getting hepatitis B is increased in:
- people born in a country where the infection is common,
- people who inject drugs,
- people who have unprotected sex.
In the UK, the hepatitis B vaccine is given to babies as part of the NHS vaccination programme because hepatitis B affects children more severely than adults. Adults that are at an increased risk of hepatitis B can also access a vaccine through NHS.
If you think that you have been at risk of hepatitis B recently or in the past, the first step is getting a hepatitis B test. Find out where you can get tested in your local area.
If you’re not sure if you have been at risk, you can get in touch with us for advice and support.
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What is hepatitis?
There are several different types of hepatitis, which can be caused by either viral infections or alcohol use. Some types of hepatitis pass without causing damage to the liver, while other types can last for many years, causing scarring of the liver and increasing the risk of liver cancer.
Hepatitis that is caused by viral infections is called viral hepatitis. The three most common types of viral hepatitis are hepatitis A, B and C.
- Hepatitis A is a type of viral hepatitis that is passed on through contaminated food and water or during sex. Click here to find out more about hepatitis A.
- Hepatitis C is a type of viral hepatitis that is passed on through blood and body fluids. Click here to find out more about hepatitis C.
Hepatitis B is a type of viral hepatitis that affects the liver. In most adults, hepatitis B doesn’t cause any symptoms and clears on its own. However, in some cases it can progress to a more severe stage and cause liver damage.
Hepatitis B affects children (especially before the age of 5 years) more severely than adults and can cause damage to the liver, if not treated.
The vaccine for hepatitis B is very effective and provides protection against infection in 98% to 100% of cases. In the UK, the hepatitis B vaccine is offered to all babies as part of the 6-in-1 vaccine. For more information about the hepatitis B, visit Hepatitis Scotland’s website.
Hepatitis B symptoms
Most people do not experience any symptoms and may fight off the virus without realising they had it.
Some people might have symptoms that occur 2 or 3 months after exposure and last for several weeks, including:
- flu-like symptoms, including tiredness, a fever, and general aches and pains,
- yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice),
- dark urine,
- nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.
These symptoms will usually pass within 1-3 months (known as acute hepatitis B). Sometimes hepatitis B can progress to a more severe stage that can last for six months or more (known as chronic hepatitis B).
Transmission of hepatitis B
Hepatitis B can be transmitted via contact with the blood or body fluids of a person who has hepatitis B. The virus can survive outside the body for at least 7 days and still be infectious if it enters the body of a person who is not protected by the vaccine.
Common routes of transmission are:
- sharing drug injecting equipment,
- contact with blood or other body fluids during sex,
- from birthing parent to baby,
- blood donations and transfusions before 1991,
- sharing toothbrushes, scissors and razors,
- tattoos or piercings with unsterilised equipment.
If you think you’re at risk and need the hepatitis B vaccine, ask your GP to vaccinate you, or visit any sexual health or genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic.
Testing for hepatitis B
A blood test can be carried out to check if you have hepatitis B or have had it in the past. Hepatitis B tests are provided to anyone free of charge on the NHS via local GP surgeries, drug services, GUM clinics or sexual health clinics.
If you think you have been at risk of hepatitis B recently or in the past, you can find the closest place to get a hepatitis B test by using our service finder. If you’re unsure or have any questions or concerns, you can get in touch with us for advice and support.
Treatment for hepatitis B
If you have been exposed to hepatitis B recently and your test for hepatitis B is positive, you may not need treatment straight away as the virus may clear on its own. However, you may need treatment to relieve the symptoms, which you can access from your GP.
Emergency treatment can be given after a possible exposure (ideally within 48 hours) to stop hepatitis B from developing. You can access emergency hepatitis B treatment from your GP.
If blood tests show that you still have hepatitis B after 6 months, your GP will usually refer you to a specialist liver clinic where you can access treatment and care. Treatment at this stage will not cure the infection, but help you to keep the virus under control and prevent further damage to the liver. Click here to read more about treatment for chronic hepatitis B.
Some people may need lifelong treatment and care to keep the virus under control. For more information, check out our page on living with hepatitis B.
Looking for support?
If you are living with hepatitis B and need support understanding a new diagnosis, treatment or navigating life with hepatitis B, we are here to help. Get in touch with us by filling out our contact form.