What is hepatitis B? Symptoms & treatment explained

A young person is standing in a corridor wearing a rainbow striped jumper. They are looking at their phone to find out how to know if you've got hepatitis B

How do I know I’ve got hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a highly contagious STI that can masquerade as the flu. A good dose of TLC will cure it if caught early, but ignoring it can cause serious liver damage. Here’s what you should look out for.

What is hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B – aka hep B or HBV – is part of the group of hepatitis viruses that causes inflammation of the liver.

Not to be confused with hepatitis A, which is spread through poor sanitation, or hepatitis C, which is mostly transmitted when people share needles, hepatitis B is an STI that’s passed on through bodily fluids after unprotected sex including vaginal, anal and oral, as well as from contaminated needles.

If you’re really unlucky, you can also pick it up from sharing a towel, razor blades or a toothbrush with an infected person.

How do I know I’ve got hepatitis B?

Symptoms may appear anytime from two to six months after initial infection, but some people don’t notice symptoms until they become quite severe.

Hepatitis B symptoms

From no symptoms at all to a long bout of the flu, hepatitis B symptoms aren’t obvious.

However, for those who do have symptoms, there are two stages of infection: acute and chronic.

Acute (or short-term) symptoms can be like having the flu. These include nausea, vomiting, aching muscles and joints, weight loss, tiredness, and loss of appetite. Symptoms can last anything up to two months but most people make a full recovery and never get it again.

For those who can’t fight off the infection (usually babies and young children, and people with a weakened immune system because of HIV) the disease moves onto the chronic stage. People with chronic hepatitis B are at higher risk of liver failure, liver disease and cancer of the liver, yet may be unaware of the dangers as symptoms can take years to develop.

Hepatitis B treatment

If you know you’ve slept with a carrier, or have a strong suspicion you have, go to your nearest GUM clinic, or make an appointment to see your doctor.

A blood test will determine whether you have the virus. For most people hepatitis B treatment means bed rest, no booze and a change in diet. Generally that’s all that’s needed for a full recovery.

However, it’s important that the infection is monitored to check whether chronic hepatitis B develops. If this is the case, chronic hepatitis B treatment involves specific drug treatments to reduce the risk of permanent liver damage and liver cancer.

What happens if you ignore hepatitis B?

It may be hard to acknowledge something that’s not visible or causing you any grief, but ignoring it could mean becoming a long-term carrier of hepatitis B, which not only puts you at risk of passing it on, but also may cause permanent liver damage.

Pregnant women infected with hepatitis B can also pass the virus on to their baby during childbirth.

How to prevent contracting hepatitis B

Using condoms every time you have sex offers some protection. And avoid unlicensed tattoo parlours or acupuncturists; and sharing syringes, razors or toothbrushes.

If you are in a high-risk group for catching hepatitis B (drug addict, sex worker, your occupation involves the risk of exposure to the virus, e.g. paramedic, you’re travelling to countries where the virus is widespread) you can be immunised against it. Ask your GP for advice.

How soon can you have sex again after hepatitis B treatment?

Regardless of how mild or non-existent your symptoms are, it’s important to wait until the GP has given you the all clear to prevent spreading the disease.

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hepatitis| STIs

By The Mix Staff

Updated on 10-Feb-2023