Te mate ate kakā B Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is caused by a virus that attacks and damages the liver. It spreads by close contact with an infected person's blood or other body fluids. Hepatitis B can be prevented with a vaccine.

How hepatitis B spreads

Hepatitis B can be passed on through contact with an infected person's body fluids, especially blood, semen, or vaginal fluids.

For example, hepatitis B can spread from:

  • sharing needles or syringes — for example from injectable drugs, acupuncture or tattoos
  • vaginal, anal, or oral sex without a condom.

If you have hepatitis B, you can pass the infection to others for several weeks before symptoms appear until weeks, months, or sometimes years later.

Hepatitis B and pregnancy

If you are pregnant, hepatitis B can be passed to your pēpi, usually at or around the time of birth.

As soon as they are born, these pēpi need to have both:

  • special antibodies to protect them (Hep B immunoglobulin)
  • the Hep B vaccine.

Symptoms of hepatitis B

If you have hepatitis B, the symptoms can include:

  • nausea
  • tiredness
  • dark pee (urine)
  • pale or light-coloured poo
  • joint and muscle pain
  • feeling unwell
  • yellow eyes or skin (jaundice).

Symptoms usually appear 2 to 3 months after you catch hepatitis B. But, they can start anytime from 6 weeks to 6 months after infection.

Some people do not feel sick when they catch hepatitis B but go on to develop complications later in life.

Tamariki who have hepatitis B usually develop a very mild illness. Sometimes they have no sign of illness at all.

Complications from hepatitis B

Some people continue to carry the virus in their body known as Chronic Hepatitis B (CHB). This is more likely to happen if you get hepatitis B as a pepi (baby) or tamaiti (child).

CHB can lead to liver disease (cirrhosis), liver failure, and liver cancer.

Diagnosing hepatitis B

If you think you might have hepatitis B, or have had close contact with someone who has it:

  • see your healthcare provider
  • call Healthline on 0800 611 116

Testing pēpi for hepatitis B

Pēpi born to someone positive for hepatitis B will need to be tested for hepatitis B when they are about 9 months old. Testing before this time can give you an incorrect result.

Treating hepatitis B

There is no specific treatment for hepatitis B.

In most cases, your immune system will clear the infection. Signs and symptoms of acute hepatitis B usually resolve 1 to 3 months after they start. 

It can help to:

  • rest — hepatitis B can make you tired
  • protect your liver — the liver processes medicines and alcohol, so avoid alcohol and review any medication with your healthcare provider.

Treatment for people with chronic hepatitis B

People infected with chronic hepatitis B (CHB) are at risk of liver failure and liver cancer. They could need a liver transplant or cancer treatment.

There is anti-viral medication available that reduces the risk of getting these problems.

If you have CHB, you will need to have repeat blood tests every 6 months to check your liver.

The Hepatitis Foundation provides free monitoring to support people living with chronic hepatitis B.

Hepatitis Foundation (external link)

Preventing hepatitis B

Hepatitis B vaccines are covered on the National Immunisation Schedule. Find out about the vaccine, who needs it and when to get it.

Hepatitis B vaccines (external link)

Practice safe sex using condoms (external or internal/female condoms) or dental dams if you have vaginal, oral or anal sex

Never share drug equipment with other drug users. This includes needles, syringes, spoons and filters as well as bank notes or straws to snort cocaine.

Do not share personal items such as toothbrushes and razors.

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