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Hepatitis B


Hepatitis B is caused by a virus that infects the liver. It's easy to pass on during sex or by sharing injecting equipment. Most people who get it make a full recovery, but for a minority it can be more serious.

Symptoms of hepatitis B:

Many people who get hepatitis B notice no symptoms or they are so mild that they may not realise they have it. But weeks or months after infection it can cause:

  • loss of appetite 
  • nausea or vomiting
  • extreme tiredness 
  • fever 
  • stomach pain
  • jaundice (where your skin and the whites of your eyes turn yellow, your urine turns dark and your faeces (poo) turn pale).

Symptoms can last several weeks, taking months to get back to normal.

Most people make a full recovery but up to one in 20 become ‘carriers’ with chronic (long-term) infection. They usually feel fine but stay infectious to others, with a small risk of going on to develop liver disease.

Around one in 100 people gets a more serious illness which can be fatal if not treated immediately.


The virus can be passed on in these body fluids:

  • blood
  • semen
  • pre-cum
  • vaginal secretions.

It's passed on through:

  • oral, vaginal or anal sex without a condom
  • rimming
  • sharing sex toys
  • sharing injecting drug equipment such as needles and syringes which can carry infected blood
  • a pregnant woman with the virus can give it to her baby during childbirth.

It can be found in saliva but there are no proven cases of it being passed on through kissing. Infections from bites are rare. You can pass on hepatitis B from two weeks before developing jaundice.

Avoid sharing razors, toothbrushes, nail scissors, hair clippers and tweezers because traces of blood on them can pass on hepatitis B. This includes dried blood as the virus can survive for at least a week outside of the body.

How can I protect myself and others?

You can protect yourself by getting a vaccination. This is especially important if you belong to one of the high-risk groups, i.e. you:

  • have close contact with someone with the infection
  • are a gay man
  • inject drugs
  • travel to parts of the world where the infection is common.

There is a vaccine which can protect you against both hepatitis A and B.

If you're in a high-risk group for hepatitis B you can usually get vaccinated for free by your GP or at your sexual health clinic.

You may need a booster injection of the vaccination after five years.

If you have hepatitis B tell people you live with or recently had sex with to urgently ask their doctor about vaccination. Avoid sex until told you are no longer infectious.

Although not as effective as being vaccinated, the following can also cut the risk:

  • condoms for penetrative sex
  • a latex barrier (eg, a condom cut into a square) for rimming.

If you're a carrier you may want to tell a partner and explain that you're infectious. They can then decide if they want to take precautions (eg, get vaccinated) or are happy to take any risk.

That way they cannot accuse you of infecting them without them knowing the risk was there.

If you're not vaccinated against hepatitis B and are exposed to the virus, there is a treatment which may stop you being infected. Hepatitis B immunoglobulin (HBIG) is an injection of antibodies. It's best to take it within 48 hours of exposure - you'll be vaccinated at the same time.

What can I do if I think I have hepatitis B?

Most cases are diagnosed by GPs (family doctors), not sexual health clinics, and treatment isn’t needed for most people. If you had sex with someone recently or you share your house with others, they can be vaccinated to stop them getting the infection - they should see a doctor straight away.

Avoid sex until you're told are no longer infectious or until your partners have been vaccinated.

A blood test will confirm whether you have the virus.

Is there any treatment for hepatitis B?

In most cases no treatment is needed for acute hepatitis B. It may take a while to recover and you may want to take some time off work.

If you have chronic hepatitis B you may need treatment at some point to try to slow down the replication of the virus. However, treatment cannot usually cure chronic hepatitis B. A small number of carriers go on to get liver disease (and a small number of those get liver cancer), and may need a liver transplant.

If your body clears hepatitis B, you’re immune and cannot get it again - but you can get other types of hepatitis.

What else can I do to stay healthy?

  • avoid alcohol until your liver recovers
  • hepatitis B can make you more vulnerable to infection, so smoking is best avoided due to the health problems it causes
  • recreational drugs should be avoided to allow your liver to get better
  • eat a healthy balanced diet.

HIV and hepatitis B

If you're living with HIV and are co-infected with hepatitis B, please see our co-infection page for more information.

Next: Hepatitis C ››

‹‹ Back to: Hepatitis A



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  • is there no treatment at all for hepatitis virus at all? as the person i know has it? has the symptoms has it quite bad? and isn't well most days?

    Posted 17:13 Sun 13 Jan 2013
  • Dear THT

    This page is very out of date and could supply much better advice. Can we meet and discuss lessons learnt from the last 10,000 hbv callers to our helpline? A good start point would be to acknowledge that 80% of the hbv diagnosed in our liver units is now in communities where it is mainly child acquired. Also precautions need updating and vaccinations are incorrectly suggested as a "might". Patients need to know that the green book states it is mandatory for a GP to offer HBV vaccination to all sexual companions, and the gay community and the HIV community. I recommend a form letter stating this mandatory right for GP's would be good to attach to the HBV page. We get lots of patients living with unvaccinated people due to GP's being so useless at vaccinating. Condoms only stop 10% of HBV infections and sadly many HBV patients are told use a condom and given no advice on obtaining vaccinations. we get the oh my god the condom broke and the oh my god he said he borrowed my razor calls often.

    Posted 19:10 Sun 03 Jul 2016
  • Dear THT

    If you added a forum with medically qualified Q n A threads, we could do real good to the 4,000 young mums diagnosed at 3 months pregnant each year. The last such forum had half a million views, the maternity units will forward the ladies. I am totally biased but I feel HBV moms bravery, learning, teaching and coping is the best conversation on Earth.

    Posted 19:23 Sun 03 Jul 2016
  • Thank you for taking the time provide feedback about our hepatitis B information. The hepatitis section of our website was reviewed in September 2015 so the information is up-to-date and accurate. All of our information is accredited by The Information Standard which means that it is reviewed regularly, evidenced, peer reviewed and user tested.

    In this section of our website we are providing an overview of hepatitis and its prevention and treatment and are focusing on the main ways it is acquired in the UK rather than worldwide.

    Most people in the UK with acute infection acquire hepatitis B either sexually or through injecting drug use, so we would advise people who are in a high risk group to have a vaccination and also to use condoms to prevent sexual transmission. Condoms also help prevent the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections as well as unplanned pregnancies.

    If you have any further feedback, please feel free to get in touch via feedback@tht.org.uk

    THT Web Team

    Posted 16:56 Wed 12 Oct 2016
  • This comment is awaiting moderation

    Posted 01:07 Sat 23 Dec 2017

The Information Standard: Certified member

This article was last reviewed on 11/9/2015 by Anna Peters

Date due for the next review: 11/9/2018

Content Author: R. Scholey

Current Owner: Health promotion

More information:

British Liver Trust, Hepatitis B booklet, by Professor Graham Foster, Professor of Hepatology, Barts & The London School of Medicine & Dentistry, London: Ms Louise Campbell, Senior Nurse Liver Unit, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, St Mary’s Hospital, London. July 2012

American Sexual Health Association, Hepatitis B, 2015

NHS Choices, Hepatitis B - Overview, June 2014

NHS Choices, Hepatitis B - Symptoms, June 2014

NHS Choices, Hepatitis B - Causes, June 2014

NHS Choices, Hepatitis B - Treatment, June 2014

NHS Choices, Hepatitis B - Complications, June 2014


NAM aidsmap, The liver, by Michael Carter, April 2011

NAM aidsmap, Sexually transmitted infections, February 2011

Hepatitis B, BUPA, 2015

British Association of Sexual Health and HIV, Clinical Effectiveness Group, 2008 United Kingdom National Guideline on the Management of the Viral Hepatitides A, B & C (2008)

Department of Health, Immunisation against infectious disease - 'The Green Book' - updated edition (2006) also see the Department of Health update on hepatitis B (November 2009).

Edited by Stephen Morse et al, Atlas of Sexually Transmitted Diseases and AIDS, Third Edition, Mosby (2003)


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The easiest and most effective precaution to take against most STIs is using a condom.