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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a virus that can damage your liver. The virus can cause either short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic) hepatitis.

You can get the virus from contact with an infected person's blood or other body fluids, such as saliva, semen and vaginal secretions.

Anyone can get hepatitis B but those most at risk are:

Preventing hepatitis B

There is a vaccination available to prevent hepatitis B. Babies get this free, as part of the National Immunisation Schedule. 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.

Symptoms of hepatitis B

Children or babies who are infected with hepatitis B often do not get any symptoms from it at first but are very likely to develop a long-term infection (chronic hepatitis B).

Adults may become unwell two to three months after they are infected. Symptoms may include:

Hepatitis B usually goes away by itself. A few adults go on to have long-term (chronic) hepatitis B. Some people with chronic hepatitis B can develop scarring in their liver (cirrhosis) or liver cancer.

Many people do not know they are infected and can pass on the virus to other people.

Diagnosing hepatitis B

Hepatitis B can be diagnosed with blood tests to detect the presence of the hepatitis B virus or antibodies to the virus. During the early stages of acute hepatitis B blood tests may show changes in your liver function.

Treating hepatitis B

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.

Most people with short-term (acute) hepatitis B infection will not need any treatment and the infection will go away by itself.

Some people with long-term (chronic) hepatitis B may need antiviral medications, such as Entecavir and Tenofovir, or an injection to boost your immune system called peginterferon alfa-2a (Pegasys). These medicines do not get rid of the virus but reduce the chances of developing long-term liver damage (cirrhosis) or liver cancer.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed July 2021.

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Page reference: 52879

Review key: HIHEP-49691