Hepatitis B is carried in the blood. It is usually transmitted through blood to blood contact. Examples include:
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 mother can pass a Hepatitis B infection to a new born baby, 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:
Most people clear the virus after this initial stage and are then immune to the infection. These people will not be infectious. You can only be certain you have Hepatitis if you have a test.
A blood test can be taken to detect Hepatitis B.
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.
Some people’s body 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.