Hepatitis B is an infection caused by the hepatitis B virus. The virus is found in the blood and bodily fluids of an infected person.

Many people with hepatitis B have few symptoms andmay notknow they're infected. They may spread the infection without realising it.

Hepatitis B is most often caught in parts of the world where the infection is more common, although certain groups ofpeople are atrisk ofpicking up theinfection in the UK.

How hepatitis B is spread

Hepatitis B can be spread by:

  • a mother to their newborn baby, particularly in countries where the infection is common all pregnant women in the UK are offered screening forhepatitis B ;babies of infected mothers are vaccinated immediately after birth to help prevent infection
  • injecting drugs and sharing needles and other drug equipment, such as spoons and filters
  • having sex with an infected person without using a condom
  • having a tattoo, Piercing , ormedical or dental treatmentin anunhygienic environment with unsterilised equipment
  • having a blood transfusion in a country where blood isn't tested for hepatitis B all blood donations in the UK are now tested for the infection
  • sharing toothbrushes or razors contaminated with infected blood
  • the skin beingaccidentally punctured by a used needle (needle stick injury) this is mainly a risk for healthcare workers
  • the blood of someone with hepatitis Bgetting into an open wound, cut, or scratch in rare cases, being bitten by someone with hepatitis B can also spread the infection

Hepatitis B isn't spreadby kissing,holding hands, hugging, coughing, sneezing, or sharing crockeryand utensils.

Who's most at risk of hepatitis B?

People at highest risk of hepatitis B include:

  • people born or brought up in a country where the infection is common
  • babies born to mothers infected with hepatitis B
  • people who have ever injected drugs
  • anyone who has had unprotected sex, including anal or oral sex particularly people who've had multiple sexual partners, people who've had sex with someone in or from a high-risk area, men who have sex with men, and commercial sex workers
  • close contacts, such as family members, of someone with long-term (chronic) hepatitis B infection

The riskof getting hepatitis B for travellers goingto places where the infection is common is generally considered to be low if the activities mentioned above are avoided.

Your GP can arrange for you to have a bloodtest to check for hepatitis B and have the hepatitis B vaccination if you're at a high risk.

High-risk areas

Hepatitis B isfoundthroughout the world, but isparticularly common in:

  • sub-Saharan Africa
  • east and southeast Asia
  • the Pacific Islands
  • parts of South America
  • southern parts of eastern and central Europe
  • the Middle East
  • the Indian subcontinent

Most new cases of hepatitis B in the UK occur in people who caught the infection in one of these areas before moving to the UK.

Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 29 Nov 2016