Hepatitis B is an infection of the liver caused by a virus. The hepatitis B virus is found in the blood and bodily fluids, such as semen and vaginal fluids, of an infected person.
It often doesn't cause any obvious symptoms in adults and typically passes in a few months without treatment.
Hepatitis B is less common in the UK than other parts of the world. You could be at increased risk if you:
- are a man who has sex with men
- have unprotected sex with multiple sexual partners
- originate from a high-risk country
- inject drugs
Many people with hepatitis B won't experience any symptoms. If symptoms do develop, they tend to occur 2 - 3 months after exposure to the hepatitis B virus.
Symptoms can include:
- yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
- flu-like symptoms, including tiredness
- general aches and pains
- abdominal pain, feeling and being sick, and diarrhoea
A blood test can be carried out to check if you have hepatitis B or have had it in the past.
Hepatitis B can be serious. If you think you may have been exposed to the hepatitis B virus recently emergency treatment can help prevent infection if given within a few days of exposure.
If you think you need emergency treatment you should get urgent advice from your GP, A&E or our clinic at St Catherine's Health Centre. Due to the national shortage of vaccines please call our team before coming into clinic - 0300 123 5474 (freephone, 8.00am-6.00pm Mon - Fri).
If your exposure to hepatitis B is due to drug related activity, please contact Wirral Ways to Recovery on 0151 556 1335.
If you require the hepatitis B vaccination for travel purposes, please contact your GP.
Emergency treatments are most effective if given within 48 hours after possible exposure to hepatitis B, but you may still be offered them up to a week after exposure.
A vaccine is available that offers protection against hepatitis B. This is usually a course of 3 vaccines. You should consider the vaccination if you:
- are a man who has sex with men (MSM)
- are a male or female sex worker
- inject drugs or have a sexual partner who injects drugs
- are a sexual partner or close family of someone with hepatitis B
- change sexual partner frequently
Reduce your risk by:
- using a condom. The risk could be higher if blood is present, such as minor bleeding during anal sex or if you engage in chemsex (using drugs to help or enhance sex) as it can be associated with risky sexual behaviours, such as having lots of different sexual partners and not using condoms
- not sharing any drug-injecting equipment with other people - including needles and other equipment such as syringes, spoons and filters
- not sharing razors or toothbrushes that might be contaminated with blood
Visit NHS Choices - Hepatitis B
For further advice, please take a look at the leaflets produced by The Family Planning Association.