A young travelling man carrying his luggage in an outdoor, urban environment.

This disease, which mainly affects the liver, is transmitted through blood or other bodily fluids. Babies and young children are most at risk of developing a long-term illness, which is why immunisation is recommended from birth.

Did you know?

  • Most infants and young children do not show symptoms when infected with hepatitis B. Yet up to 90% of those infected will go on to have a chronic infection.1
  • Chronic hepatitis B can lead to serious health issues including liver damage, liver cancer and even death.
  • People with chronic hepatitis B infection have the virus in their blood and can spread the disease to others.
A mother looking at her happy, laughing baby which she is holding.

What is it?

Hepatitis B is a virus that infects the liver causing inflammation (pain and swelling). Hepatitis B infection can be acute or chronic. When a person is first infected with the hepatitis B virus, they may or may not have any symptoms. If they do have symptoms, they are usually sudden and brief, this is called an ‘acute infection’. Most healthy people that are infected do not have any symptoms and are able to get rid of the virus without any problems. Some people who are unable to get rid of the virus after 6 months are diagnosed as having a ‘chronic infection’ (long-term infection). Babies and young children are more likely to develop chronic hepatitis B which can lead to liver disease or liver cancer.

The hepatitis B virus is just one of the forms of viral hepatitis (others include A, C, D and E).

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of hepatitis B vary and can depend on your age. Infants and young children (especially those <1 year) usually don’t have symptoms. But about 30-50% of adults will show symptoms when infected with hepatitis B.1

If symptoms occur, they can take anything from 6 weeks to 6 months 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)
  • general unwell feeling.

These symptoms can last for weeks or months. After mild hepatitis B infection, most adults will make a full recovery. Yet for some people, especially young children and infants, hepatitis B can become a chronic condition that may lead to liver disease or liver cancer.

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.

How is it spread?

The hepatitis B virus is found in the blood, semen and other bodily fluids of infected people. It is spread when these fluids enter the body of a person who isn’t infected, such as through:

  • childbirth from mothers to babies
  • sharing equipment that punctures the skin (needles, body-piercing and tattooing equipment, acupuncture equipment, pedicure and manicure equipment)
  • sexual contact
  • direct contact with open sores.

Who is at risk?

Anyone who has not been vaccinated against hepatitis B is at risk of infection. You may be at higher risk of infection if you: 

  • have a hepatitis B-infected mother (at risk during childbirth)
  • live with or are in close contact with people who have hepatitis B
  • have unprotected sex
  • inject drugs with shared needles
  • live in or are travelling to areas where hepatitis B is common.

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

Who should be vaccinated?

  • The hepatitis B vaccine is recommended and provided free for infants and young children as part of the National Immunisation Program (NIP). It is usually given at birth, then at 2, 4 and 6 months of age. A booster may be recommended at 12 months for preterm infants who were born at less than 32 weeks gestation or whose birth weight was under 2000 grams. Speak to your doctor for more information.

    Immunisation Schedule

    •  Immunisation funded via the National Immunisation Program (NIP)
    •  Immunisation recommended by experts for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and/or medically at-risk children but is not funded
    Diseases Birth 2 months 4 months 6 months 12 months 18 months 4 years 10 to <15 years 15-19 years
    Chickenpox (varicella)+                  
    A second dose of varicella vaccine is recommended any time between 4 years of age and less than 14 years, at least 4 weeks after the first dose. Speak to your doctor to learn more.
    Diphtheria                  
     
    Hepatitis A+                  
    Two doses of Hepatitis A vaccine are recommended and NIP-funded for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children at 12 months and 18 months living in certain areas. A two-dose schedule (which is not funded) is also recommended for some medically at-risk children and adolescents. Speak to your doctor to learn more.
    Hepatitis B+                  
    An additional booster vaccine is recommended at 12 months of age for preterm infants who were born at less than 32 weeks gestation or whose birth weight was under 2000 grams. Speak to your doctor to learn more.
    Haemophilus influenzae
    type b (Hib)
                     
     
    Human Papillomavirus (HPV)                  
     
    Measles                  
     
    Meningococcal ACWY disease+                  
    The meningococcal ACWY vaccine is strongly recommended (but not funded) for children less than 2 years of age, adolescents (15 - 19 years), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (2 months - 19 years), and those aged at or above 2 months with certain medical conditions. A free dose is given at 12 months of age. For anyone wishing to reduce their risk of meningococcal disease the vaccine is recommended if their doctor deems it appropriate. Speak to your doctor to learn more or see who is most at risk of meningococcal disease here.
    Meningococcal B disease+                  
    The meningococcal B vaccine is strongly recommended (but not funded) for children less than 2 years of age, adolescents (15 - 19 years), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (2 months - 19 years), and those aged at or above 2 months with certain medical conditions. For anyone wishing to reduce their risk of meningococcal disease the vaccine is recommended if their doctor deems it appropriate. Speak to your doctor to learn more or see who is most at risk of meningococcal disease here.
    Mumps                  
     
    Pneumococcal disease+                  
    An additional dose of pneumococcal vaccine is recommended and NIP-funded at 6 months of age for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. Two additional doses (at 6 months and 4 years) are recommended and NIP-funded for medically-at risk children. Further doses may be recommended and funded during adolescence depending on risk – speak to your doctor to learn more.
    Polio                  
     
    Rotavirus                  
     
    Rubella                  
     
    Tetanus                  
     
    Whooping cough (pertussis)                  
     
    Annual flu+      
     

     

     

     

     

     
    The influenza vaccine is recommended annually for all people aged 6 months and over. Influenza vaccine is funded under the NIP for those at or above 6 months of age with certain medical conditions and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 6 months to under 5 years and those aged at or above 15 years. Learn more about who should receive flu vaccination.
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  • The hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for those whose occupation or lifestyle may put them at greater risk of exposure to hepatitis B; as well as for migrants from countries where hepatitis B is common. Other individuals may also be at greater risk of getting hepatitis B.

    As part of a pregnancy planning health check, the need for hepatitis B immunisation will be assessed.

    If you’re aged 30 years and over, it is unlikely that you have been vaccinated against hepatitis B. Routine infant immunisation began nationally in 2000 and funding for adolescent immunisation ran between 1996-2013.

    Please discuss your individual circumstances with your doctor.

     Immunisation schedule

    •  Immunisations may be recommended by experts but is not funded.
    Diseases All adults Planning for a baby Pregnancy 65 and over 70 to 79 years Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander adults
    Chickenpox (varicella)            
     
    Diphtheria            
     
    Hepatitis B            
     
    Measles            
     
    Meningococcal ACWY disease            
     
    Meningococcal B disease            
     
    Mumps            
     
    Pneumococcal disease+            
    Pneumococcal vaccine is recommended and funded for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples at 50 years of age, with a second dose recommended five years later. All non-Indigenous people can receive a free vaccine at 65 years of age. Women planning pregnancy who have risk factors for pneumococcal disease, including smokers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, should be assessed for pneumococcal vaccination.
    Rubella            
     
    Shingles (Herpes zoster)+            
    The herpes zoster (shingles) vaccine is funded for adults aged 70 years, with a short-term catch-up program for adults aged 71-79. It is also recommended (but not funded) for all adults over 60 years of age.
    Tetanus            
     
    Whooping cough (pertussis)            
     
    Annual flu+            
    The influenza vaccine is recommended annually for all adults, and is funded for pregnant women (during any stage of pregnancy), people aged 65 and over, people with certain medical conditions and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
  • Immunisation is recommended if you’re travelling to a country where hepatitis B is common or you are planning to undertake certain activities that may expose you to hepatitis B. Such activities include:

    • tattoos, body piercing, pedicures, manicures or acupuncture with improperly sterilised equipment
    • medical or dental procedures with contaminated equipment
    • accidents that require medical treatment
    • sharing personal grooming items (such as a razor blades or toothbrushes) with an infected person
    • sexual contact with an infected person.

    It is important to plan ahead and see your doctor at least 6 to 8 weeks before you travel to discuss immunisation and travel health.

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Treatment

There is no specific treatment for mild hepatitis B infection. Speak to your doctor about ways you can relieve 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.

Important information

For further information about hepatitis B immunisation speak to your doctor.

Some side effects may be experienced following immunisation. Please discuss any side effects or concerns with your doctor.

References

  1. Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI). The Australian Immunisation Handbook 10th Edition (2017 update). Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health. https://immunisationhandbook.health.gov.au/vaccine-preventable-diseases/hepatitis-b (accessed September 2018).

AUS/VAC/0071/18 Date of Approval: November 2018