What is hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is an infection of the liver caused by a virus. The illness can be mild with few symptoms in some people, while others can experience severe disease lasting for weeks or months. Some people become carriers and have the virus in their blood and other body fluids for the rest of their lives. These people have chronic hepatitis B infection.
Hepatitis B is a reportable disease in Ontario.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis B?
Up to 50% of infected people have no symptoms and can spread the virus to others without knowing. It can take up to 8 weeks after contact with infected blood or body fluids for symptoms appear. If you do experience symptoms, they can include:
- nausea and vomiting
- decreased appetite
- joint pain
- yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes, which is called jaundice
You should see a health care provider if the illness seems to be causing more serious symptoms.
How is hepatitis B spread?
The hepatitis B virus is found in blood and body fluids. The infection is spread through anal, vaginal or oral sex, or through sharing injection drug equipment with someone who has a hepatitis B infection. Sharing equipment can also spread hepatitis B (for example, razors and nail clippers, and equipment for body piercing, ear piercing or tattooing).
A pregnant woman can pass the virus to her unborn baby during pregnancy or while giving birth.
STI testing (sexually transmitted infection)
Our Sexual Health Clinics offer free, confidential testing and counselling services.
How is hepatitis B treated?
There is no cure for hepatitis B; however, there are some treatments that can help reduce the amount of virus in the blood. People with symptoms of hepatitis B infection should see a health care provider.
You can treat mild symptoms at home.
How is hepatitis B prevented?
There is a vaccine available to prevent hepatitis B infections.
There are also special treatments available to prevent infection from developing in people who have been exposed to the blood or body fluids of someone with hepatitis B infection. They are most effective when started within 48 hours after the exposure.