What you need to know

Hepatitis B is a virus that infects the liver. It is passed on easily through unprotected sex, particularly between men who have sex with men. Sharing injecting equipment for drug taking is another possible pathway for hepatitis B transmission. Hepatitis B is actually 100 times more infectious than HIV.

Most people (around 90-95%) who get hepatitis B are able to fight off the virus and are then unable to pass it on or catch it again (they become immune). However, it can become a chronic illness in some people, meaning that they have the illness in the long-term. This is very common in young children and babies.

People who have the chronic hepatitis B infection are called chronic carriers. Around two thirds of these people don’t get sick or die of the virus, but they can pass it on to other people.

The rest can go on to develop a disease of the liver, which can become very serious. Many will develop scarring of the liver (this is called cirrhosis). Chronic hepatitis B is also linked to an increased risk of developing liver cancer.

Signs and symptoms

Many people who are infected with hepatitis B do not even realise that they are infected and most people who are infected have no symptoms for many years.
Occasionally patients infected with hepatitis B may have some symptoms after the initial infection. Symptoms to look out for are a mild flu-like illness, feeling sick and vomiting, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, jaundice (yellow skin and whites of eyes, and dark urine) or itchy skin.

Testing and treatment

A blood test is used to diagnose Hepatitis B. If you would like to be tested, you can either visit the Beckenham Beacon sexual health clinic, or you are eligible to order an online test which includes Hepatitis C testing if you are a man who has sex with men.

If you have chronic or acute hepatitis B you will be referred you to your GP for further assessment.

There is treatment available for long-term (chronic) hepatitis, which a liver specialist can prescribe. There is a good vaccination available to prevent people catching hepatitis B and this is recommended and provided for people at risk of catching it through having sex.