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Hepatitis B

did you know?

Most children, especially less than 1 year of age, do not show symptoms when infected with hepatitis B, but up to 90% will go on to have a lifelong infection.

Hepatitis B - What is it?

Hepatitis B is a viral disease caused by the hepatitis B virus that mainly affects the liver. Hepatitis B can start off as a mild infection lasting a few weeks with a few or no symptoms, however can progress to a serious lifelong illness which can lead to liver disease or liver cancer.

Hepatitis B - What are the symptoms?

About 30-50% of adults who become infected with hepatitis B will show symptoms, however most children, especially less than 1 year of age, will show no symptoms.

If symptoms occur, they can take 45 to 180 days to appear and can include fever, weakness, poor appetite, nausea/vomiting, stomach pain, muscle/joint pain, dark-coloured urine, light-coloured stools, jaundice (yellow colouring of eyes and/or skin) and a general unwell feeling which can last for weeks or months.

After mild hepatitis B infection most adults will make a full recovery, however in some people, especially in young children and infants, hepatitis B infection can become a lifelong (chronic) condition that may lead to liver disease or liver cancer. People with chronic infection have the virus in their blood and can spread the disease to others.

This is not a full list of symptoms that can occur following a hepatitis B infection. Please speak to your doctor if you have any concerns about hepatitis B infection.          

Hepatitis B - How is it spread?

Hepatitis B virus is found in the blood or bodily fluids of infected people, and can be spread to others if the blood or bodily fluids come into contact with broken skin. Hepatitis B can be spread through:

  • childbirth from mothers to babies
  • sharing equipment that punctures the skin (sharing needles, body-piercing equipment, acupuncture equipment)
  • sexual contact
Hepatitis B - Who is at risk?

Anyone who has not been vaccinated against hepatitis B is at risk of infection, those at a higher risk of infection include:

  • those with a hepatitis B-infected mother (at risk during childbirth)
  • those with hepatitis B-infected household members or other close contact with hepatitis B-infected persons
  • those living in or travelling to areas where hepatitis B is common

Other people may be at risk of hepatitis B infection. Please discuss your individual circumstances with your doctor.

Hepatitis B – Vaccination

Hepatitis B vaccination is recommended and provided free for infants and adolescents as part of the National Immunisation Program (NIP). It is usually given at birth, then at 2, 4 and 6 months of age.

Hepatitis B vaccination is recommended for older children and young adults under the age of 20, who have not already received a primary course of hepatitis B vaccination. Hepatitis B vaccination may be funded for secondary school children by your State or Territory, please see your healthcare professional for further information.

Hepatitis B vaccination is also recommended for the following groups of adults who are considered at a higher risk of getting hepatitis B infection:

  • sexual and household contacts with people who have hepatitis B
  • migrants from countries where hepatitis B is common
  • people at occupational risks
  • travellers to countries where hepatitis B is common

Other individuals may also be at greater risk of getting hepatitis B. Please discuss your individual circumstances with your doctor.

It is important to complete the recommended course of vaccinations, to help protect against hepatitis B infection and help maintain immunity.

In Australia, vaccination against hepatitis B is also provided in combination vaccines that help to protect against other diseases.

Hepatitis B – Treatment

There is no treatment for mild hepatitis B infection, treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms. For chronic hepatitis B infection, antiviral medicines can be used however the aim of treatment is to reduce the risk of developing liver disease.

For information about hepatitis B immunisation in your area, contact your State or Territory Health Department or doctor.

 

Some side effects may be experienced following vaccination. Please discuss any side effects or concerns with your healthcare professional.

 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION PLEASE SPEAK TO YOUR HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONAL

 

AUS/VAC/0030/15. Date of approval: April 2015.