Hepatitis B is an infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Hepatitis B can become a chronic infection, which increases the risk of liver failure, cirrhosis or liver cancer.

Adults infected with hepatitis B usually make a full recovery while infants and children more often develop a chronic hepatitis B infection. There is no cure for hepatitis B but there are vaccines that can prevent the infection.

Acute vs. chronic hepatitis B

  • Acute hepatitis B infection: This type of hepatitis B infection can be fought off by the body’s immune system and lasts less than 6 months. Most adults infected with hepatitis B have an acute infection but it can lead to a chronic one.
  • Chronic hepatitis B infection: Chronic hepatitis B infection can result from the immune system’s inability to fight off an acute infection. A hepatitis B infection is considered chronic if it lasts longer than 6 months, but it can last a lifetime and lead to other illnesses such as cirrhosis or liver cancer.



Symptoms of hepatitis B include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Joint pain
  • Fever
  • Dark urine
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)


The symptoms usually appear about one to four months after being infected.



The hepatitis B virus is spread through blood, semen or other body fluids by:

  • Sexual contact: Unprotected sex with an infected partner
  • Needle sharing: Sharing needles containing contaminated blood
  • Accidental needle sticks
  • Mother to baby


Risk factors

Risk factors for hepatitis B include:

  • Unprotected sex with an infected person
  • Needle sharing during drug use
  • Homosexual activities
  • Living with a person suffering from chronic HBV infection
  • Travelling to regions with high rates of HBV
  • Being an infant born to an infected mother
  • Being exposed to human blood at the workplace



A chronic HBV infection can lead to the following complications:

  • Cirrhosis: The inflammation caused by the hepatitis B infection can lead to serious scarring of the liver and may impair the liver’s ability to function.
  • Liver failure: In liver failure all functions of the liver are impaired, which requires a liver transplant in order for the patient to survive.
  • Liver cancer
  • Other conditions: Chronic hepatitis B can lead to kidney disease, anemia or inflammation of the blood vessels.



There is a vaccine available against HBV, which is administered in 3 to 4 doses over the period of 6 months.

Other ways to reduce the risk of HBV:

  • Safe sex
  • Quitting use of illegal drugs (intravenously)
  • Extra caution regarding body piercing and tattoos
  • Check vaccine requirements before travelling