© 2019 Know Your Risk: Testing Week Scotland

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is carried in the blood and body fluids. It is passed on very easily and is up to 100 times more infectious than HIV. You should consider getting tested if you think you have ever been exposed to the virus. You may have been exposed to the virus if you:

How you get it

You may have been exposed to hepatitis B if you:

  • have prepared drugs or injected, inhaled, or snorted drugs using shared equipment, even once, such as needles, syringes, spoons, straws and water, etc.

  • have had a blood transfusion in the UK before 1992

  • have had condomless sex with a person infected with hepatitis B

  • identify as a man who has sex with men (MSM)

  • have received any blood products before 1987 in Scotland (1986 in England)

  • have had an organ or tissue transplant in the UK before 1982

  • have had medical or dental treatment abroad in countries where infection control procedures may be poor

  • are the child of a mother with hepatitis B

  • are a regular sexual partner/household contact of someone with hepatitis B and may have come in direct contact with their blood, e.g. by sharing toothbrushes and razors

  • have been accidentally exposed to blood where there is a risk of transmission of hepatitis B (e.g. healthcare worker with needle stick injury)

  • have had tattoos, piercings, acupuncture or electrolysis where infection control procedures are poor

  • are infected with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)

Think you may have been at risk? Visit the Where to get tested page to find your local service.

How can I prevent it?

There is an effective vaccine available for hepatitis B which can prevent you from becoming infected with the virus. The hepatitis B vaccine is free if you are considered to be at high risk of contracting hepatitis B.

Barrier protection also decreases the risk of becoming infected with hepatitis B.

If you inject drugs, or use steroid injections to enhance body building, you should use clean equipment every time you inject and never share or allow anyone else to touch any of your injecting equipment, including needles, syringes, swabs, spoons, filters, water, or anything else you use to prepare and inject drugs, as this can pass on the virus.

You can reduce the risk of becoming infected by hepatitis B through sexual transmission by taking the following measures.

 

Reduce the risk of a condom bursting by:

  • making sure it's properly unrolled

  • squeezing the air out of the 'teat' before putting it on

  • keeping your fingernails short and smooth

  • using lube suitable for use with condoms

  • never using oils, oil-based lubricants, or oily foodstuffs during sex

 

The risks from oral sex can be reduced if you:

  • always use a fresh condom

  • avoid oral sex if there are any signs of infection

  • avoid oral sex if the person giving it has any cuts or sores in their mouth

How do I know if I have hepatitis B?

In most cases hepatitis B infection can only be identified by a blood test. Most adults infected with hepatitis B recover fully (this is known as acute hepatitis B infection), but 1 in 10 may develop a prolonged, chronic infection.

Is there treatment?

There is treatment for chronic hepatitis B infection.

Most people who are infected as adults clear the virus naturally in the acute phase, effectively meaning they have got rid of it. For acute hepatitis B infection, no medical treatment is required. Usually people will be advised simply to get plenty of rest.

However, those who develop chronic infections cannot get rid of the hepatitis B virus naturally and will often have a life-long infection, which possibly involves treatment. The aim of treatment for hepatitis B is to control the disease and prevent liver damage. The treatment will not cure hepatitis B (except in very rare cases) but does help to slow progression of serious liver damage.

More information

For more information on hepatitis B, visit www.hepatitisscotlandb.org.uk