Frequently Asked Questions

Below are answers to frequently asked questions about hepatitis B and liver health. These questions can help you better understand the causes, symptoms and transmission modes of the hepatitis B virus.

Q: What is hepatitis B?

A: Hepatitis B is one of the most common infectious diseases in the world.1 The cause of hepatitis B is a virus that infects the liver.

Hepatitis B infections are either acute or chronic. Acute hepatitis B can last from a few weeks to a few months.2,3 Most people with acute infection will fully recover and not have any lasting health problems.4

Chronic hepatitis B is more serious. A person with chronic hepatitis B may have the disease for life.5 Chronic hepatitis B can lead to more serious liver disease, including liver cancer.2 Some 15-25% of people with chronic hepatitis B will eventually die from liver disease.6 It is urgent that people with or who are at risk of chronic hepatitis B visit their medical professional and get a hepatitis B blood test.6

While chronic hepatitis B cannot be cured after infection, a medical professional can prescribe certain medications that can help manage the virus.7

Q: What is the liver?

A: The liver is the largest and one of the most important organs in the body. The liver stores fats, sugars, vitamins and other nutrients that your body needs to keep going. It also helps the body get rid of toxins and infections from the blood.

Q: What causes hepatitis B?

A: Hepatitis B is caused by a virus. The virus is passed from one person to another by blood and body fluids.5

Q: Is hepatitis B contagious?

A: Hepatitis B is 100 times more contagious than HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.2 In addition, the hepatitis B virus can survive outside the body for at least seven days and still cause infection.2

Q: How is hepatitis B spread?

A: Hepatitis B is transmitted from one person to another through blood and body fluids. Here are other ways hepatitis B can be transmitted:8

  • Unprotected sex
  • Sharing needles and syringes with infected persons
  • Unclean needles when getting tattoos or body piercings
  • Barbers can spread the virus when using unclean razors
  • Share personal items such as toothbrushes with people who have the virus
  • Blood transfusions
  • Surgery, in areas where there is not sufficient care given to sterilisation of equipment
  • Being born to a mother who has hepatitis B.

Hepatitis B also can be passed from an infected woman to her newborn baby during childbirth.6 Of these newborns, 80-90% of them will be born with hepatitis B and will go on to develop chronic hepatitis B.6

People who live with an infected person are also at risk and should not share personal items such as razors, toothbrushes or nail clippers.9

Medical professionals also are at increased risk for becoming infected and should follow proper procedures for using and disposing of needles and blood products.2

Q: Can hepatitis B be prevented?

A: Yes, there are steps that people can take to avoid getting infected. Answers can be found in the “Preventing Hepatitis B” section of this website.

Q: Can hepatitis B be cured? Is hepatitis B curable?

A: People with acute hepatitis B could recover completely.4

People with chronic hepatitis B will have the infection for life. There is no cure for chronic hepatitis B once infected. However, there are medicines that can help manage the disease.7 You should ask your medical professional for advice on what medicines would work best for you.

Q: Is there a vaccine for hepatitis B?

A: Hepatitis B vaccines are available and given to babies at birth in many countries. However, it is not available in all countries.2 A hepatitis B vaccine will not protect you if you have already been exposed to the virus.8

Q: What can I do if I think I might have hepatitis B?

A: The only way to know for sure is to visit your medical professional and get a hepatitis B blood test.2

 

 

 

 

1 Hepatitis Australia. Hepatitis B Virus: A Summary. Available at www.hepedu.org.au/factsheets/pdf/HepB_VirusSummary.pdf. Accessed May 2011.

2 World Health Organization. Hepatitis B Fact Sheet. Available at http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs204/en/. Accessed May 2011.

3 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hepatitis B FAQs for Health Professionals. Available at  http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/HBV/HBVfaq.htm. Accessed May 2011.

4 Hepatitis B Foundation. Acute vs. Chronic HBV. Available at http://www.hepb.org/professionals/acute_vs._chronic_hbv.htm. Accessed May 2011.

5 Hepatitis B Foundation. General Information: FAQ. Available at  http://www.hepb.org/patients/general_information.htm#ques5. Accessed May 2011.

6 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hepatitis B FAQs for the Public. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/B/bFAQ.htm#overview. Accessed May 2011.

7 Hepatitis B Foundation. Living with Hepatitis B FAQs. Available at http://www.hepb.org/patients/living_with_hepatitis_b.htm. Accessed May 2011.

8 Hepatitis B Foundation. Hepatitis B. Available at http://www.hepb.org/hepatitisbcd/modules/infectd/id450101/id459101.pdf. Accessed May 2011.

9 National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Viral Hepatitis: A through E and Beyond. Available at http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/viralhepatitis/. Accessed May 2011.