Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a liver infection that is spread through blood, semen and vaginal fluids. It's more common in Asia and Africa than in the UK.

The infection usually only lasts for a few months, but some people can have hepatitis B long-term.

How you can get hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is caused by a virus that is spread through blood, semen and vaginal fluids.

You can get hepatitis B from:

If you're pregnant and have hepatitis B, you can also pass it onto your baby during pregnancy or birth.

How to prevent hepatitis B

Hepatitis B vaccination

Vaccination is the best way to prevent hepatitis B. In the UK, the hepatitis B vaccine is given to babies as part of the 6-in-1 vaccine.

Babies born to mothers with hepatitis B are given additional vaccinations at birth, 4, weeks and 1 year, to reduce the risk of them getting the infection.

Adults only need to get the vaccine if they're at high risk, for example:

Your employer should organise your vaccination if your job puts you at risk.

If you're travelling abroad, get advice from a travel clinic, GP, nurse or pharmacist before you go.

Other ways to reduce your risk

To help protect yourself from hepatitis B you should also:

Check if you have hepatitis B

Symptoms of hepatitis B infection include:

The infection usually lasts for 1 to 3 months and most people either have no symptoms or mild symptoms. If the infection lasts longer than 6 months it is called chronic hepatitis B.

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:

  • you think you might have hepatitis B

Treatments for hepatitis B

Hepatitis B usually clears up on its own without treatment. You may be offered medicine to help with the symptoms, such as painkillers or medicines to stop you feeling sick.

Your GP will refer you to see a liver specialist who will check how well your liver is working.

If hepatitis B lasts for over 6 months it is called long-term (chronic) hepatitis B.

It is usually treated with antivirals and medicine to help relieve symptoms such as itchiness, pain, and sickness. You will also need to see a liver specialist for regular check-ups.

Living with hepatitis B

As well as medical treatments, there are some things you can when you have hepatitis B to help ease the symptoms and stop the infection spreading to others.

Do

  • rest and stay hydrated

  • take painkillers like paracetamol and ibuprofen – ask your doctor for advice about how much paracetamol you should take as you may not be able to take a normal dose

  • keep your room well ventilated, wear loose clothing and avoid hot showers and baths if you feel itchy

Don’t

  • do not drink alcohol

  • do not have sex without a condom or dam

  • do not share razors, toothbrushes or needles with others

Complications of hepatitis B

Most people do not have any lasting problems after having a hepatitis B infection.

If left untreated, chronic hepatitis B can cause liver damage (cirrhosis) and increase your risk of getting liver cancer.

It is important to take any medicine you have been prescribed and go for regular check-ups to make sure your liver is working properly.

Page last reviewed: 1 July 2022
Next review due: 1 July 2025