Hepatitis B Frequently Asked Questions
Q – Is there a vaccination for hepatitis B? Does it really work?
A – There is a vaccination for hepatitis B. It has been available since the early 1980s and has been part of the vaccination schedule in Australia since 2000. Babies, 10-13 year olds and some other groups – such as people with hepatitis C, people with HIV, people living in the same house as someone with hepatitis B, and people who inject drugs – can access the vaccination for free.
For full immunity, you MUST have all three injections over a six month period. For a very small number of people the vaccination doesn’t work and they don’t become immune. In these instances the individual can try a second course of vaccination, or try another formula. A very few people will never respond to vaccination which means they must take other prevention precautions.
Q – I can’t remember if I’ve had one or two vaccinations. Am I fully covered?
A – You should talk to your GP to check that you have had the full course of vaccinations and that the vaccination has worked for you.
Q - A recent test shows that I have low immunity to hep B. Do I need a booster?
A –If you have completed your course of vaccinations, then hepatitis B booster shots are generally not recommended even when antibody levels are low (or declined) as there is good evidence that that vaccination provides long-term protection.
Booster doses are however recommended for people who are immune-compromised e.g. with HIV or renal failure (reference B Positive: A guide for primary care providers). At the same time, it may be that you haven’t completed the whole course of vaccinations. You should talk to your GP, who may recommend you get a booster.
Q – My partner/housemate has hep B. Can I get it?
A – Hepatitis B can only be transmitted by the blood or sexual fluids of an infected person entering the bloodstream of a non-infected person. It cannot be transmitted by sharing food, toilet seats, mosquitoes, hugging, kissing, holding hands, or simply by being together in the same room.. All partners and household members of people living with hepatitis B are recommended for hepatitis B vaccination.
Q – Do I need to pay for the vaccination?
A – The Hep B vaccination is free for a few groups of people, including:
- household contacts and sexual partners of people living with Hepatitis B
- people who inject drugs or are on opioid substitution therapy
- people living with Hepatitis C
- men who have sex with men
- people living with HIV
- prisoners and remandees
CLICK HERE to access more information can be accessed from The Australian Immunisation Handbook.
Q – I am concerned that I’ve been exposed to the hep B virus. How will I know if I’ve been infected? What sort of symptoms will I have?
A – Some people may experience flu-like symptoms, but many may not experience any symptoms at all. If you are concerned that you may have been exposed to the virus, the only way you can know for certain if you have hepatitis B is to get tested, if only for peace of mind.
Q – How do they test for hepatitis B?
A- Hepatitis B Testing is done through taking a blood sample. It can take from six weeks to six months from the time of initial infection, for hepatitis B to be detectable in your blood tests.
Q – I have/one of my family members has hep B. Are my children safe?
A – Yes. Hepatitis B can only be transmitted by the blood or sexual fluids of an infected person entering the bloodstream of a non-infected person. It cannot be transmitted by sharing food, toilet seats, mosquitoes, hugging, kissing, holding hands, or simply by being together in the same room. Babies and children born in Australia from 2000 should have received the full course of vaccination. However, for peace of mind you can ask your GP to check their immunity.
You can also find out more steps you can take in your home to keep your family safe. [link to HepVic Factsheet on Domestic Infection Control]
Q – I’ve just been diagnosed as having hepatitis B. How can I make sure that my family are protected?
A - Hepatitis B can only be transmitted by the blood or sexual fluids of an infected person entering the bloodstream of a non-infected person. It cannot be transmitted by sharing food, toilet seats, mosquitoes, hugging, kissing, holding hands, or simply by being together in the same room. So there is very little chance of your family being affected. However for peace of mind household members should be vaccinated. The vaccination is three injections over six months, and provides lifelong protection for most people who receive it.
Q – Can hepatitis B be passed to baby at the point of conception?
A – No. It can however be passed from mother to baby during birth, unless appropriate medical steps are taken.
Q – Once I’ve been vaccinated, is there any chance I can be exposed to the virus?
A – So long as you have received the full course (three vaccinations over six months) and you have checked that the vaccination has worked for you, you do not run the risk of getting hepatitis B.
Q – I’ve been told that I’m a healthy carrier of hepatitis B. What does that mean?
A – There is no such thing as a “healthy carrier”. It is misleading term because it implies that you have nothing to worry about and don’t need to monitor your chronic hepatitis B. This is not the case.
We know that the hepatitis B virus is always present, but it goes through different stages as the body recognises and reacts to the virus. People only need treatment during certain stages, and liver damage is only occurring at certain stages. The only way to know what stage you’re at, when you need treatment, or to monitor the health of your liver is through hepatitis B and liver health checks with a specialist. It is important for someone with chronic hepatitis B to be referred to a liver specialist for assessment and monitoring.
Q – I’ve had hepatitis B in the past. Can I catch it again?
A - If you catch hepatitis B as an adult you have a 95% chance that your immune system will clear the virus from your system. If you have had it in the past and cleared it you cannot catch it again, you don’t need to be vaccinated as you now have immunity, and you can’t pass the virus on to anyone else.
One unusual point about hepatitis B is that it can leave a partial copy of itself inside the cells of the liver even if the immune system has cleared/cured the virus. This doesn’t mean you have the virus or is causing liver damage, or that you can transmit it to others.
This means if you contract HIV, or start undergoing treatment with immunosuppressant’s for organ transplant or chemotherapy for cancer, you can be at risk of a hepatitis B flare up. In these circumstances you will be tested and monitored for your hepatitis B, and if necessary, treated.
Q – Do I have to disclose my child’s hep B status at kindergarten/school?
A – There is no legal obligation to disclose a child’s status. It is up to the individual/parent to decide whether they want to disclose or not. All childcare facilities are required to comply with Standard Infection Control Guidelines which assume all blood and other body fluids are infectious. These guidelines protect staff and children by applying the same level of infection control for all people regardless of hepatitis or other blood borne virus status.