Hepatitis B is an acute infection of the liver. It is usually spread through contaminated blood via sexual intercourse, needle sharing, blood transfusions and injections. The virus can also be passed from mother to baby. Tattooing, body piercing and acupuncture are other ways in which the virus may be spread.
Hepatitis B can be either “acute” or “chronic.”
Acute hepatitis B virus infection is a short-term illness that occurs within the first 6 months after someone is exposed to the hepatitis B virus. Acute infection can - but does not always - lead to chronic infection.
Chronic hepatitis B virus infection is a long-term illness that occurs when the hepatitis B virus remains in a person’s body.
Although numbers are small in Wales compared with other parts of the world, certain groups are at an increased risk. This includes people originally from high-risk countries, people who inject drugs, and people who have unprotected sex with multiple sexual partners.
As the virus may be transmitted by contact with blood or body fluids from an infected person, certain people may be at a higher risk of acquiring hepatitis B.
Many people with hepatitis B infection don’t know they are infected as they have no symptoms at all. Others may experience a range of symptoms when they are first infected.
These may include:
Anyone with the infection can pass it on to others, even if they don’t have any symptoms or don’t know they are infected. Hepatitis B infection is usually identified by a blood test.
There is no cure for hepatitis B yet but there is some treatment which may help to stop the liver damage from getting worse and the virus from multiplying. The effectiveness of this treatment differs between individuals.
You can find out more regarding treating hepatitis B on the NHS Direct Wales website.
The hepatitis B virus is found in the blood and bodily fluids, such as semen and vaginal fluids, of an infected person.
It can be spread by:
Hepatitis B is NOT spread by kissing, holding hands, hugging, coughing, sneezing, or sharing crockery and utensils.
You can read more about the causes of hepatitis B on the NHS Direct Wales website.
Ways of reducing your risk of getting hepatitis B infection include:
If you have hepatitis B, it's also important to try to reduce the risk of others getting the infection from you.
Any close contacts, such as people who live in the same house as you, may be advised to have the hepatitis B vaccine to reduce their risk of becoming infected.
You can find out about treating yourself and protecting others from hepatitis B on the NHS Direct Wales website.
You should go and get advice from your GP or at your local sexual health clinic.
NHS Direct Wales has extensive information about hepatitis B on its website. You can also seek advice from your GP or at your local sexual health clinic.