What is it?
Hepatitis B (HBV) is a viral infection of the liver which can follow a variable course. This means that different patients have different symptoms and treatment needs. The Hepatitis B virus can cause an acute illness that often resolves itself quickly without causing long-term liver damage. However, in about 20% of cases it can result in a chronic illness that lasts more than six months, sometimes for life, with symptoms that come and go. In 15-40% of people with chronic infection, cirrhosis, liver cancer or liver failure develop. In these cases infection may eventually be fatal.
Did you know…
the Hepatitis B virus is 100 times more infectious that the HIV virus?
How can I get it?
HBV is usually transmitted through contact with infected blood or body fluids and can be sexually transmitted. Only a tiny amount of blood is needed to transmit the virus because it is so infectious. The virus may also be present in saliva, vaginal secretions, breast milk and other bodily fluids. In the UK, infection most commonly occurs through unprotected sexual intercourse; the sharing of contaminated needles by drugs users; accidental injury with a contaminated needle (e.g. if needles used for tattooing, body piercing or acupuncture are contaminated); needle stick injuries to healthcare workers, and the sharing of razors.
How do I know if I have it?
There are often no symptoms with HBV which is why it is important to get checked regularly. Symptoms, if they occur, can include feeling tired, aches, nausea, vomiting, passing darker urine than usual and being jaundiced.
Hepatitis B testing
You can have a test either on its own or as part of a Better2Know Full STI Screen . A small blood sample is needed. For your convenience, the same blood sample can also be used for other STD / STI tests you may want to order. Results are normally available the same day that the sample is received in the laboratory. Some Better2Know clinics have Instant Hepatitis B testing available which gives you a result in around 20 minutes.
How is it treated?
The majority of people with HBV do not need specific treatment other than rest and they will eventually make a full recovery. However, it is important that the infection is monitored to check whether chronic disease develops, and important that the person is given advice about the risk of passing the infection on.
If the infection lasts more than six months it has become a chronic infection, where the virus continues to actively reproduce in the body. You may need specific drug treatment to reduce the risk of permanent liver damage (cirrhosis) and liver cancer.
Your GP should refer you to a specialist in liver disease (a Hepatologist) and/or general digestive diseases (a Gastroenterologist). Treatment may be recommended either with antiviral drugs and/or other medications. Regular injections may be given which help to boost the immune system to fight the infection. The response to treatment is variable; some people who initially get better get worse again when the treatment is stopped, and others find that the side effects mean that they cannot continue with treatment. There are several different antiviral drugs available, which are also used to treat chronic cases. They are not a cure, but they do suppress the virus. These drugs may also have side effects, and the virus may become resistant to them. Better2Know can ensure you receive the advice that you need.
An effective vaccination is available from Better2Know to protect from the infection. Family and other household members of an infected person should be vaccinated. Healthcare workers and volunteers, medical employees, police and emergency services personnel, and anyone who is likely to come in contact with infected blood through their job should also be vaccinated.
You can choose to be vaccinated with Better2Know for excellent protection against the virus. For more information see our vaccines page.
If left undetected and untreated, the HBV virus can weaken your immune system and mean that you are more at risk of contracting HIV and other STIs through unprotected sexual intercourse. It can also cause chronic inflammation of the liver and may lead to liver cancer. If you are a woman who is pregnant, the risk of transmission to your baby can be minimised and your midwife will be able to advise you.