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Prevention

Vaccination

Vaccination for hepatitis B is available from your GP. Newborns, early adolescents (10-13 years), people with HIV, people with hepatitis C, people who inject drugs, people in custodial settings, and household contacts of someone with hepatitis B are all able to get the hepatitis B vaccine for free in Victoria. The vaccination is 3 injections over 6 months, and provides lifelong protection from the virus for most people who receive it. You can ask your GP for a test to see if you have immunity to hepatitis B through vaccination.

People working is jobs where the risk of exposure is high (such as health care professionals and prison officers) may be able to access free vaccination through their employer.

Mother to baby transmission

Diagnosis and monitoring of pregnant women with hepatitis B is an important step in stopping the cycle of chronic hepatitis B. Babies born to hepatitis B positive mothers can be given vaccination and hepatitis B immunoglobulin at birth, which reduces the risk of hepatitis B transmission to only 5%. Mothers with very high viral loads can also be treated during pregnancy to prevent transmission. We encourage all expectant mothers to be tested for hepatitis B during their pregnancy.

It is safe to breastfeed if you have hepatitis B. Hepatitis B is not transmitted through breast milk. Hepatitis B may be transmitted if you have cracked or bleeding nipples, however if your baby has been vaccinated they are protected from the low risk of transmission this way. If your baby hasn’t been vaccinated then you just need to express and dispose of milk while your nipples are cracked and bleeding, and recommence breast feeding when your nipples are healed.

Sexual transmission

Hepatitis B is transmitted through semen and vaginal fluids. The sexual fluids of an infected person need to get into the blood stream of a non-infected person for transmission to occur. Sexual transmission is more likely if other sexually transmissible infections (STIs) are present. Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) can lead to ulcers and breaks in the skin of the genital area, which can increase the risk of contracting hepatitis B.

Practicing safe sex will help to prevent the spread of hepatitis B and other STIs. Use condoms, lube, gloves, and either don’t share share sex toys or making sure they are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected between users and that condoms (including femidoms) are used on them.

CLICK HERE for more information on sexual health check out Family Planning Victoria’s website:

Injecting drug use

To reduce the risk of hepatitis B transmission, it is important that people who inject drugs do not share or re-use needles, tourniquets, spoons, swabs, water or any other equipment, even when no blood is visible. Special care should be taken when injecting occurs in groups, or when people are being assisted to inject by others. Label or mark your syringe. People should thoroughly wash their hands in warm soapy water before and immediately after injecting (if this is impossible, use single wipes with new swabs instead). It is important that when using in groups or injecting others, that people do not recap someone else’s needles. Everyone should be encouraged to manage sharps in a safe manner by disposing of all equipment in an approved disposal container (available from your needle and syringe program).

Body art and piercing

Anyone considering a piercing or a tattoo should make sure that their tattoo artist or body-piercer uses infection control precautions, which means using single-use disposable needles, dye tubs, surgical gloves, sterilizing equipment, and so on. Customers have the right to ask the practitioner about their infection control procedures. It is particularly important to check these things if you are getting a tattoo while overseas. In Australia, practitioners are legally required to apply infection control procedures. Overseas practitioners may not be so strict about their infection control procedures.

Some tattoo shops may ask clients to disclose their hepatitis B status. This practice is unlawful and no one is obliged to disclose their status if they do not wish to do so. It is the responsibility of the practitioner to practice infection control precautions for every customer.

Blood spills at home or at the workplace

When wiping up blood spills, it is advisable to wear gloves, use paper towels and scrub the spill with lukewarm soapy water. Cuts and abrasions should be covered.

All workplaces are legally required to apply infection control procedures, in which any blood spills are treated as potentially infectious and are dealt with in a safe manner. These procedures should be outlined in workplace health and safety policies. People concerned about blood borne virus transmission in the workplace can contact their health and safety officer, their union, or Hepatitis Victoria for more information.

In all medical settings, standard precautions must be applied to all potentially infectious material. These are precautions that have been developed to make sure that both patients and health care workers are protected from infection as much as possible.

Therefore, all bodily fluids are treated as infectious and there is NO need for anyone to disclose his or her viral status since no special precautions are required.

All medical equipment is either sterilized before use with each patient or is only for single use, while gloves and other protective gear will be used to prevent staff to patient infection. In addition, many exposed surfaces will have protective coverings on them, which are replaced for each patient. People concerned about blood borne virus transmission in a health care setting should ask the medical staff about their infection control procedures.

Do you think you have had a recent exposure to hepatitis B?

If you are worried that you have recently been exposed to hepatitis B (eg through unprotected sex, unsafe injecting), and you have never been vaccinated there are a few things you can do.

Vaccination within the first 72 hours of exposure has been shown to reduce the rate of transmission. Go to your GP or a hospital emergency department to get a vaccination for hepatitis B. You will need to then follow up with 2 more vaccinations (at one and six months) to ensure full immunity.

If you know that you have been exposed to hepatitis B (eg unprotected sex with someone who has disclosed their hepatitis B status, needlestick injury from a known source) you may be able to access hepatitis B immunoglobulin (HBIG), which is a special blood product which has hepatitis B antibodies to fight the virus. HBIG needs to be given within the first 72 hours as well, and because it is a difficult product to manufacture will only be given to people who are known to have been exposed to the virus. You will also be given a hepatitis B vaccination at the same time as the HBIG, and these need to be accessed through a hospital emergency department.

Remember: if you have been vaccinated against hepatitis B you don’t need to worry about any of these measures – you are protected from the virus.

Diagnosis and monitoring of pregnant women with hepatitis B is an important step in stopping the cycle of chronic hepatitis B. Babies born to hepatitis B positive mothers can be given vaccination and hepatitis B immunoglobulin at birth, which reduces the risk of hepatitis B transmission to only 5%. Mothers with very high viral loads can also be treated during pregnancy to prevent transmission. We encourage all expectant mothers to be tested for hepatitis B during their pregnancy.

It is safe to breastfeed if you have hepatitis B. Hepatitis B is not transmitted through breast milk. Hepatitis B may be transmitted if you have cracked or bleeding nipples, however if your baby has been vaccinated they are protected from the low risk of transmission this way. If your baby hasn’t been vaccinated then you just need to express and dispose of milk while your nipples are cracked and bleeding, and recommence breast feeding when your nipples are healed.

Remember: if you have been vaccinated against hepatitis B you don’t need to worry about any of these measures – you are protected from the virus.