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Hepatitis B

What is it?

Hepatitis B is a virus carried in the blood that can affect the liver.

Most people who come into contact with hepatitis B are able to fight off the virus. This means they are protected (they become immune) if they come into contact with the virus again and they are unable to pass it on to others.

However, for some people it can become a chronic illness, meaning that they have the infection long-term. People who have chronic hepatitis B infection don’t get sick or die of the virus, but they can pass it on to other people.

A few people may develop liver damage, which can become very serious as it can cause scarring of the liver, liver failure and liver cancer.

How is it passed on?

Hepatitis B can be carried in bodily fluids such as semen, vaginal fluid, saliva and blood.

Hepatitis B can be passed on by

  • Unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex
  • Blood to blood contact
  • Unhygienic practices in tattoo/piercing parlours (you should always make sure all equipment is sterile and seen to come out of a sealed packet)
  • Sharing razors or toothbrushes
  • Mother to baby, when giving birth or breastfeeding

What are the symptoms?

Many people who are infected with hepatitis B don’t have any symptoms for many years.

Some people may notice the following symptoms after the initial infection of hepatitis B.

  • Feeling sick and vomiting
  • Diarrhoea or a mild flu-like symptoms
  • Loss of appetite
  • Itchy skin
  • Yellow skin and eyes, and dark urine (Jaundice)

How do you test for it?

Hepatitis B is diagnosed by a blood test

What happens if I test positive for Hepatitis B?

You will be referred to a liver specialist (hepatologist) for further assessment.

What is the treatment?

Luton Sexual Health offers the vaccine to people who are at higher risk of coming into contact with hepatitis B through sex.

The following people should consider having the hepatitis B vaccination:

  • Men who have sex with men
  • Anyone who has ever injected drugs
  • Anyone who has been paid for sex
  • Anyone who has paid for sex
  • Anyone who has a sexual partner with Hepatitis B infection
  • Anyone who has been sexually assaulted recently

Find out how to avoid STIs.