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Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B

What is hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a potentially life-threatening viral infection that attacks the liver. The hepatitis B virus can cause both acute and chronic disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 257 million people worldwide are living with chronic hepatitis B, and that almost 900,000 people die as a result of the virus each year, mainly from cirrhosis and liver cancer.

How is hepatitis B transmitted?

Hepatitis B is transmitted through contact with the blood or other body fluids (i.e. saliva, semen and vaginal fluid) of an infected person. In highly endemic areas, it is most commonly passed from mother to child at birth, or from mother or an infected child to an uninfected child within the first five years of life. Infants who contract the virus at birth or within the first five years of life are very likely to develop chronic disease.

Hepatitis B is not transmitted casually. It cannot be spread via toilet seats, doorknobs, sneezing, coughing, hugging or eating meals with someone who has hepatitis B.

Preventing hepatitis B

There is a safe and effective vaccine against hepatitis B. WHO recommends that all infants receive the hepatitis B vaccine, preferably within 24 hours of birth.

If you have not been vaccinated, you can reduce your risk of exposure by using condoms, avoiding sharing needles or items such as toothbrushes, razors or nail scissors, and avoiding getting tattoos or body piercings from unlicensed facilities.

Treating hepatitis B

Medicines, including oral antiviral agents, are used to treat chronic hepatitis B. These medications suppress the replication of the virus, and can slow the progression of cirrhosis, reduce incidence of liver cancer and improve long term survival. However, not everyone living with chronic hepatitis B will require treatment, and many people worldwide have limited access to diagnosis and care.

There is no specific treatment for acute hepatitis B.

Worried you could have hepatitis B?

If you think you could have hepatitis B, contact a World Hepatitis Alliance member in your country to find out more about accessing testing and care.

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