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HealthInfo Canterbury

Hepatitis B

Hep B birthHepatitis B is caused by a virus that can damage your liver. You can get the virus from contact with an infected person's blood or other body fluids, such as semen and vaginal secretions. A mother who is infected with hepatitis B can pass it to her baby during birth.

Children or babies who are infected with hepatitis B often don't get any symptoms from it at first but are very likely to develop a long-term infection (chronic hepatitis B). However, adults may become unwell when they are infected, and have a fever, tummy pain, and nausea (feeling sick) or they may get yellow skin (jaundice).

Most adults who get the infection will clear it from their bodies, but a few will go on to have a long-term (chronic) hepatitis B. Some people with chronic hepatitis B can develop scarring in their liver (cirrhosis) or liver cancer.

Many people don't know they are infected and can pass on the virus to other people.

Am I at risk of hepatitis B?

You are more likely to have hepatitis B if you:

Ask your GP about getting a blood test to see if you have the infection.

There is a vaccination available to prevent hepatitis B. Babies get this free, as part of their routine vaccinations. It was introduced to New Zealand in the 1980s, so many adults have not been vaccinated. If you have not been vaccinated against hepatitis B and are at risk, talk to your GP.

If you have hepatitis B and are pregnant, or planning to get pregnant, talk to your GP as early as possible. There are now treatments available to take during pregnancy that can protect your baby.

Although there is no cure for hepatitis B, there are medicines that reduce the chances of it causing long-term liver damage (cirrhosis) or liver cancer.  

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Updated July 2017.

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Page reference: 52879

Review key: HIHPB-28204