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Vaccination is safe and effective in protecting against hepatitis B.

Vaccination is safe and effective in protecting against hepatitis B.
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Hepatitis B

Your liver is the largest organ inside your body. It helps your body digest food, store energy and remove poisons. Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. It has many causes, including viral infection.

Viral hepatitis can be caused by hepatitis A, B, C, D and E viruses. It can also be caused by glandular fever (EBV) and cytomegalovirus (CMV).

In hepatitis B, the virus infects the liver cells and causes an immune response which can lead to liver damage over time.

How do I get hepatitis B?

Most people with hepatitis B become infected at the time of their birth or in early childhood. This is usually the case in places where hepatitis B is widespread.

Some people get hepatitis B when they are older. It can happen through exposure to infected blood and other bodily fluids in the following situations:

  • sharing needles and other injecting drug equipment
  • sexual contact (either heterosexual or homosexual)
  • tattooing with unsterilised needles and equipment
  • close family contact with someone with hepatitis B 
  • accidental exposure such as a needle stick injury or being splashed with infected blood or body fluid
  • blood transfusion – this is now very rare as blood in Australia is screened for hepatitis B.

How do I know I have hepatitis B?

A diagnosis of hepatitis B infection is made using a number of blood tests.

Because many people do not have symptoms when they get hepatitis B they may never be diagnosed. That’s why screening for hepatitis B is recommended in a number of people including:

  • people at higher risk:
    • people who have injected drugs
    • men who have sex with men
    • people born in areas of the world where hepatitis B is widespread
    • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, as chronic hepatitis B infection is widespread in this group.
  • people about to have chemotherapy or other treatment that can suppress the immune system
  • people with HIV or hepatitis C
  • pregnant women.

If you think you have been exposed to infected blood or body fluids, see a doctor as soon as possible. There are treatments which can reduce your risk of developing the infection, if given shortly after exposure.

Sources: Australian Immunisation Handbook, 2013; G. f. sheet, Hepatitis B, 2012; ncirs hepatitis B fact sheet; Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) (AFP July 2013: Hepatitis B. What's new?)W. m. c. 2013, Hepatitis B fact sheet; World Health Organisation (WHO)

Last reviewed: August 2015

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