Hepatitis B

Is a virus that can infect and damage the liver.

How is it passed on?

Hepatitis B is carried in the blood. It is usually transmitted through blood to blood contact. Examples include:

  • sharing needles when injecting drugs;
  • a cut in the skin that comes into contact with infected blood;
  • use of unsterilised equipment when getting a tattoo/body piercing;
  • sharing razors or toothbrushes that are contaminated with infected blood;
  • unprotected sex.

Although transmission through sex is rare, it is 50-100 times more infectious than HIV. In the UK, it is more common in men who have sex with men and it can be prevented by using a condom and by vaccination.

Hepatitis B is more common in certain parts of the world, such as Africa, Asia, South America and Eastern Europe. In these countries, it may be acquired in childhood.

A mother can pass Hepatitis B infection to her newborn baby, but the infection can be prevented if the baby is vaccinated immediately after birth.


During the early stage of infection there may not be any symptoms. If symptoms do develop, this is usually within the first 6 months after infection. Those who do get symptoms may experience:

Most people clear the virus after this initial stage and are then immune to the infection. These people will not be infectious. You can only be certain you have Hepatitis if you have a test.

Long term effects

Some people’s body cannot clear the virus and so they will develop a long term infection called chronic Hepatitis. Hepatitis B can lead to problems with your liver, including scarring of the liver (cirrhosis), often years after catching the infection.


You should seek immediate medical advice if you think you have been exposed to Hepatitis B. It is possible to prevent infection with treatment, but to be most effective it should be given in the first 48 hours after exposure.

Hepatitis B can be managed at home in the early stages, using over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol. You may be prescribed codeine if the pain is more severe.

If you have chronic Hepatitis B, you will be symptom-free for much of the time. However, you may need to take medication to prevent liver damage and have regular tests done. There are now very effective medications that can suppress the virus over many years.

Telling your partner

If you are diagnosed with Hepatitis B you should tell anyone who you may have had blood to blood contact with, or unprotected sex with, since you became infected. In some cases this may be hard to work out, so it is best to discuss the risks to others with your doctor. Any contacts may have the virus without knowing it, so it is important for them to get tested.

How to avoid Hepatitis B

  • Never share any drug-injecting equipment with other people (not just needles, but also syringes, spoons and filters).
  • Don’t get tattoos or piercings from unlicensed places.
  • Don't share razors, toothbrushes or towels that might be contaminated with blood.
  • Use a condom, especially with a new partner, for vaginal, anal and oral sex;
  • Get vaccinated.


Hepatitis B vaccine is available on the NHS, and is recommended for people who are at risk of infection. This includes people who inject drugs, sex workers, men who have sex with men, and people whose partners or close family have the virus.


Where to get tested?

A sexual health clinic can test you for this infection. You can also get tested for Hepatitis B at your GP or a drug treatment service. This involves a simple blood test.

How long after infection does Hepatitis B show up in tests?

Test results will show if you have the infection as early as 4 weeks after exposure.

Should the Hepatitis B vaccine protect me for the rest of my life?

No, you will need to check your levels of immunity some years after vaccination. The healthcare professional who gives you the vaccine will advise you when your immunity levels need checking.

Where do I go to get a Hepatitis B vaccine?

Your GP, a sexual health clinic or occupational health department (if your occupation puts you at risk of infection).

What is antiviral medication?

Antiviral medication usually acts to prevent a virus from multiplying.

Does Hepatitis B affect fertility?


Are there any side effects from the Hepatitis B vaccine?

Side effects are rare, but contact the person who gave you the vaccine at once (or attend an Emergency Department if the clinic is closed) if you have a serious side effect such as:

  • Fever, sore throat and headache with a severe blistering, peeling, and red skin rash;
  • Irritability;
  • Fast or pounding heartbeats;
  • Easy bruising or bleeding.

Less serious side effects include:

  • Redness, pain, swelling, or a lump where the injection was given;
  • Headache, dizziness;
  • Low fever;
  • Joint pain, body aches;
  • Tired feeling;
  • Nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, constipation, diarrhoea.

Will my partner(s) be able to tell if I have Hepatitis B?

They will be able to tell if you have symptoms of the infection but not if you don’t. However, it is important that you tell your partner(s) since you may pass or have passed the infection to them. They may also be the source of the infection but be unaware.

To make an appointment or for further advice, please call:

0300 303 1948

Phoneline open 08:15-16:45 Monday-Friday

(closed 12:30-13:30 for lunch)