What is Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a viral infection caused by the Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) which affects the liver. It can cause both acute and chronic infections, meaning that different patients may have different symptoms, some more serious than others. In most cases, the virus is present for a few months and then the infected person's body is able to clear the virus. However, some people will not be able to celar the virus and the infection will progress to become chronic.

A chronic Hepatitis B infection is one that lasts more than six months and can have symptoms which come and go. Some people with the chronic Hepatitis B infection can develop cirrhosis, liver cancer or liver failure and these conditions, if left untreated, can lead to death.

Did you know? …

India has over 40 million people infected with Hepatitis B and over 600,000 deaths in India are attributed to Hepatitis B infection.

How can I get Hepatitis B?

HBV can be transmitted through blood and body fluids such as semen and vaginal fluids, so it can be caught through any sexual activity. The virus may also be present in other bodily fluids such as saliva and breast milk.

As well as sexual activity, the virus can also be spread by the sharing of contaminated needles, either through drug use or accidental injury with a contaminated needle, through tattooing, body piercing or acupuncture, needle stick injuries for healthcare workers, and sharing razors. Only a tiny amount of blood is needed to transmit the virus because it is so infectious.

How do I know if I have Hepatitis B?

Most people do not have symptoms and will not know they have the virus. This is why it is important to get tested regularly as the virus can be passed on to others without the infected person knowing they have it. If symptoms do occur, they may include flu-like symptoms, such as tiredness, aches and pains, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. Some people may experience more severe symptoms including jaundice, dark urine and pale stools.

How can I test for Hepatitis B?

You can have a Hepatitis B test at Better2Know either on its own or as part of a package. If you are worried about other infections including Hepatitis B, we have a range of screens available. Our Platinum Screen can detect for 12 STIs, and our Early Detection Screen tests for Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV as early as 10 days after exposure.

A blood sample is required and the same sample can also be used for other STD tests you may want. Results for your Hepatitis B test are normally available the same day that the sample is received in the laboratory.

How is Hepatitis B treated?

Most people with HBV do not have symptoms and recover completely within a couple of months. However, it is important that the infection is monitored including regular blood tests and physical check-ups. The person should also be given advice about the risk of passing the infection on to others.

If the infection is chronic, you may need to take medication to reduce the risk of permanent liver damage and liver cancer. Effective medications are now available that can suppress the virus for many years, slowing down the damage done on the liver, allowing it to repair itself. You will still need to be monitored regularly.

Other treatment options include antiviral drugs, and regular injections which help to boost the immune system to fight the infection. The response is variable, and some people who initially get better get worse again when the treatment is stopped. Other people find that the side effects mean that they cannot continue with treatment. The virus may also become resistant to the drugs. Detecting a Hepatitis B infection early is the best way to manage this condition and early treatment is important in eliminating the infection.

What are the risks if Hepatitis B is left untreated?

If left undetected and untreated, HBV can weaken the immune system. If your immune system is not functioning properly, you are more susceptible of contracting other infections such as HIV and other STIs. It can also cause chronic inflammation of the liver and may lead to liver cancer and failure.

If you are pregnant, there is a risk of transmission to your baby. Be sure to get tested regularly for Hepatitis B and if you are planning a family, get yourself and your partner tested before you try to become pregnant.