Hepatitis B - What you need to know

Posted 03 July, 2023
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Hepatitis B – What you need to know

Hepatitis B (or hep B) is a virus that causes inflammation and damage to your liver. If left unmonitored, hepatitis B can cause long term liver disease, cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and liver cancer.

How do you get hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is passed on from one person to another, through blood or sexual fluids (semen and vaginal fluids).

The following activities can transmit hepatitis B, in people who have not been vaccinated:

  • During birth, if your mother was living with
    hepatitis B (also known as vertical transmission)
  • Having unprotected sex (oral, vaginal or anal)
  • Sharing injecting drug equipment (including
    needles, syringes, water, filters, or spoons)
  • Having a backyard/prison tattoo or piercing
  • Having an overseas dental or medical procedure
  • Having a needlestick injury

What are the symptoms?

Even if you feel well it is important to get a hepatitis B blood test if you think you have come into contact with hepatitis B.

Many people don’t feel sick. Those that do may experience:

  • Tiredness
  • General aches & pains
  • Loss of appetite
  • Jaundice – Yellowing of the skin and eyes
  • Nausea
  • Brain fog or confusion

Stages of the disease

Hepatitis B has ongoing stages that refer to the amount of damage to the liver.

If your liver has been badly damaged, scar tissue (also called fibrosis) builds up and stops the liver from working properly.

Healthy Liver Icon

Healthy Liver

No damage

Fibrosis Liver Icon


Scarring of the liver tissue

Cirrhosis liver icon


Very scarred, leading to liver cancer or liver failure

How do I know if I have hepatitis B?

You will need to have a blood test to check if you have the hepatitis B virus. Your doctor (GP) or health clinic can give you a referral for a hepatitis B blood test.

How do I find a doctor?

You can talk to your local doctor (GP), Aboriginal Medical Service or sexual health clinic about getting tested for hepatitis B.

You can also search our HEPnav directory to find local hepatitis B services.

What happens if I come into contact with hepatitis B and I’m unvaccinated?

If you come into contact with hepatitis B, your body will work to try and clear the virus.

If your body does not naturally clear the virus, it becomes chronic hepatitis B. Chronic hepatitis B means lifelong hepatitis B that can not be cured.

The risk of developing chronic hepatitis B depends on your age when exposed to the virus.


Babies have a 95% chance of developing chronic hepatitis B.


Children have a 50% chance of developing chronic hepatitis B.


Adults have a 5% chance of developing chronic hepatitis B.

Is there a cure for chronic hepatitis B?

While there is currently no cure for people living with chronic hepatitis B, you can live a healthy, long life.

It is important to have regular six-monthly check-ups with your doctor. Blood tests and liver scans will help your doctor check the health of your liver and decide if you need to take medication.

Some people will need to take daily tablets to help control the amount of hepatitis B virus in the body and protect the liver.

How can I protect myself from hepatitis B?

  • Get vaccinated. This is the best protection!
  • If you are pregnant and have hepatitis B, talk to your doctor about vaccinations and the hepatitis B immunoglobulin for your baby at birth. It is safe to breastfeed but if your nipples are cracked or bleeding you should stop temporarily
  • Practice safe sex
  • Avoid blood-to-blood contact – don’t share injecting equipment or personal items that may have traces of blood on them like tweezers, razors or toothbrushes
  • Always get your tattoos and piercings done by a professional
  • Avoid overseas medical or dental procedures where equipment may not be sterilised

More information

Contact Hepatitis Queensland on 1800 437 222 for more information and support on hepatitis B and liver health.

You can also talk to your doctor or Aboriginal Medical Service.

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