Signs & Symptoms

Some people may have no symptoms at all but can still pass on the virus. Symptoms may include:

  • A short, flu-like illness.
  • Fatigue.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Diarrhoea.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Weight loss.
  • Jaundice (yellow tinge to eyes or skin).
  • Itchy skin.

Getting it

The hepatitis B virus is very common worldwide. It is very infectious and can be passed on:

  • By unprotected penetrative sex (where the penis enters the vagina or anus) or sex which draws blood.
  • By oral sex (from mouth to the genitals or genitals to the mouth).
  • By sharing needles or other drug injecting equipment contaminated with blood.
  • By using equipment for tattooing, acupuncture or body piercing contaminated with blood.
  • From an infected mother to her baby.
  • Through a blood transfusion in a country where blood is not tested – all blood for transfusion is tested in the UK.

Diagnosis & Treatment

Hepatitis B can be diagnosed by a simple blood test. If you have had hepatitis B but your body has cleared it, you may be protected from future infection of hepatitis B.

However, if your blood test shows that you carry active hepatitis B virus (HBV), this means:

  • You can pass it on to others.
  • You are at risk of chronic liver disease and may be referred to a specialist.
  • You should limit the amount of alcohol you drink.
  • You should avoid taking any recreational drugs as these could further damage your liver.
  • You should not take any over-the-counter drugs without the advice of your doctor.
  • You should use a condom for penetrative sex and your partner should be immunised.
  • You should avoid sharing toothbrushes or shaving equipment as hepatitis B can be passed on in this way.
  • You will be advised to have regular blood tests and physical check-ups. Many people do not require treatment as inflammation of the liver may not be severe.
  • You may be offered interferon injections or antiviral tablets.

If you test positive for hepatitis B it would be advisable to get your current sexual partner into the clinic for a check-up.

Inmunisation

For certain high-risk groups’ vaccinations are available, free of charge at your local sexual health (GUM) clinic. These are:

  • Men who have sex with men.
  • Intravenous drug users.
  • Sex workers.

Three injections of hepatitis B vaccine are given over a period of 3-6 months. A blood test is then taken to check that you are immune.

You should then be immune for at least 10 years. It is important that babies of mothers with hepatitis B are immunised at birth to prevent them becoming infected.

Long-term effects

You may develop chronic liver problems including cancer of the liver and liver failure.

If you think you may have hepatitis B, contact your local sexual health (GUM) clinic and make an appointment. It’s easy and completely confidential.

For more information on sexual health (including HIV), call the Sexual Health Line free (from the UK) on 0800 567 123, textphone (for people with hearing impairments) 0800 521 361 or phone your local NHS sexual health clinic.

You can also find out more about viral hepatitis from the British Liver Trust at info@britishlivertrust.org.uk or 0870 770 8028.