What is Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is a virus.
The hepatitis B virus is one of several viruses that can cause inflammation of the liver.
Hepatitis B is spread through the blood or sexual fluids (vaginal fluids or semen) of an infected person entering the blood stream of a non-infected person. It is also transmitted from mother to baby during birth.
Most people (95%) who get infected with hepatitis B as an adult will have a short term (acute) illness, and their body will get rid of the virus naturally. Symptoms of acute hepatitis B infection may be flu-like symptoms, muscle aches and pain, nausea, vomiting, fatigue and jaundice (yellow skin and eyes), however many people will have no symptoms at all and not know that they have the infection.
In Australia, hepatitis B in adults is spread most commonly through unprotected sex and unsterile injecting of illicit drugs. It is not a common illness, with approximately 2000 infections of hepatitis B in Australian adults every year. Vaccination is available for hepatitis B.
Hepatitis B is more of a problem if it is transmitted to a baby from their mother at birth, or during early childhood. If this happens, the baby or young child, has a 70-90% chance of going on to have chronic (long term) infection with hepatitis B. In Australia, more than 200,000 people have chronic hepatitis B.
Most of these chronic infections occurring in people who come from countries with a high incidence of hepatitis B (eg. South East Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Pacific Islands). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are also at increased risk of having chronic hepatitis B. Many people with chronic hepatitis B have no symptoms, or they have vague symptoms such as fatigue. As of 2012, around 1 in 3 people in Australia with chronic hepatitis B have not been diagnosed.
There are effective treatments for chronic hepatitis B that dramatically reduce the risk of serious liver disease such as liver cancer and cirrhosis. Untreated, chronic hepatitis B can lead to serious liver disease and/or liver cancer in 1 in 4 people, ie. 25% of people.
Treatment is accessed through either gastroenterology specialists or infectious diseases specialists at the outpatient departments of most major hospitals. You need a GP referral to be seen by a specialist for your hepatitis B.
For more general information visit: HepB Help
Return to the main hepatitis B page