A young travelling man carrying his luggage in an outdoor, urban environment.

This disease, which mainly affects the liver, is transmitted through blood or other bodily fluids. Babies and young children are most at risk of developing a long-term illness.

Did you know?

  • Most infants and young children do not show symptoms when infected with hepatitis B. Yet up to 90% of those infected will go on to have a chronic infection.1
  • People with chronic hepatitis B infection have the virus in their blood and can spread the disease to others.
  • Chronic hepatitis B can lead to serious health issues including liver damage, liver cancer and even death.
A mother looking at her happy, laughing baby which she is holding.

What is it?

Hepatitis B is a virus that infects the liver causing inflammation (pain and swelling). Hepatitis B infection can be acute or chronic. When a person is first infected with the hepatitis B virus, they may or may not have any symptoms. If they do have symptoms, they are usually sudden and brief, this is called an ‘acute infection’. Most healthy people that are infected do not have any symptoms and are able to get rid of the virus without any problems. Some people who are unable to get rid of the virus after 6 months are diagnosed as having a ‘chronic infection’ (long-term infection). Babies and young children are more likely to develop chronic hepatitis B which can lead to liver disease or liver cancer.

The hepatitis B virus is just one of the forms of viral hepatitis (others include A, C, D and E).

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of hepatitis B vary and can depend on your age. Infants and young children (especially those <1 year) usually don’t have symptoms. But about 30-50% of adults will show symptoms when infected with hepatitis B1.

If symptoms occur, they can take anything from 6 weeks to 6 months to appear and can include:

  • fever
  • weakness
  • poor appetite
  • nausea/vomiting
  • stomach pain
  • muscle/joint pain
  • dark-coloured urine
  • light-coloured stools
  • jaundice (yellow colouring of eyes and/or skin)
  • general unwell feeling.

These symptoms can last for weeks or months. After mild hepatitis B infection, most adults will make a full recovery. Yet for some people, especially young children and infants, hepatitis B can become a chronic condition that may lead to liver disease or liver cancer.

This is not a full list of symptoms that can occur following a hepatitis B infection. Please speak to a healthcare professional if you have any concerns about hepatitis B infection.

How is it spread?

The hepatitis B virus is found in the blood, semen and other bodily fluids of infected people. It is spread when these fluids enter the body of a person who isn’t infected, such as through:

  • childbirth from mothers to babies
  • sharing equipment that punctures the skin (needles, body-piercing and tattooing equipment, acupuncture equipment, pedicure and manicure equipment)
  • sexual contact
  • direct contact with open sores.

Who is at risk?

 You may be at higher risk of infection if you: 

  • have a hepatitis B-infected mother (at risk during childbirth)
  • live with or are in close contact with people who have hepatitis B
  • have unprotected sex
  • inject drugs with shared needles
  • live in or are travelling to areas where hepatitis B is common.
  • you have not been immunised against heptatitis B

Other people may also be at risk of hepatitis B infection. Please discuss your individual circumstances with a healthcare professional.

Prevention and Treatment options

  • Children

    There is no specific treatment for mild hepatitis B infection and usually gets better on its own. For chronic hepatitis B infection, antiviral medicines can be used; however, the aim of treatment is to reduce the risk of developing liver disease.

    The risk of hepatitis B can be reduced through immunisation.

    Please speak to a healthcare professional for more information about hepatitis B prevention and treatment options.

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  • Adults

    The risk of hepatitis B can be reduced by;

    • using protection during sexual contact with new partners
    • making sure body piercing or tattoos are done by an experienced practitioner who follows good hygiene and sterilisation practices 
    • wearing single use gloves if giving first aid or needing to clean up body fluids or blood
    • using sterile needles and syringes if you inject drugs and following good hand hygiene practices before and after injecting
    • avoiding sharing certain personal items that can break the skin, such as toothbrushes and razors
    • immunisation.

    There is no specific treatment for mild hepatitis B infection and usually gets better on its own. For chronic hepatitis B infection, antiviral medicines can be used; however, the aim of treatment is to reduce the risk of developing liver disease.

    Please speak to a healthcare professional for more information about hepatitis B prevention and treatment options.

  • Travellers

    You may be exposed to hepatitis B if you’re travelling to a country where hepatitis B is common or you are planning to undertake certain activities. Such activities include:

    • tattoos, body piercing, pedicures, manicures or acupuncture with improperly sterilised equipment
    • medical or dental procedures with contaminated equipment
    • accidents that require medical treatment
    • sharing personal grooming items (such as a razor blades or toothbrushes) with an infected person
    • sexual contact with an infected person.

    It is important to plan ahead and see a healthcare professional at least 6 to 8 weeks before you travel to discuss prevention options and travel health.

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References

  1. Immunisation (ATAGI). Australian Immunisation Handbook, Australian Government Department of Health, Canberra, 2018, immunisationhandbook.health.gov.au. (accessed September 2020)

PM-AU-AVX-WCNT-190035 Date of GSK Approval: January 2021