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 cannot be cured, but can be prevented with a 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.

Hepatitis B is usually more serious for adults.

Who to contact for medical advice

If you have symptoms that you are worried about:

  • contact your usual doctor or healthcare provider
  • call Healthline for free advice 0800 611 116
  • call 111 for an ambulance in an emergency.

Complications from hepatitis B

Some people do not feel sick when they catch hepatitis B but continue to carry the virus in their liver for many years. This can become a life-long illness called chronic hepatitis B. It can cause liver disease and liver cancer, and can lead to death.

  • Liver cancer usually leads to death and occurs in about 1 in 15 people with chronic hepatitis B.
  • Acute liver failure can require a liver transplant or lead to death.

Pēpi and tamariki are less likely to have symptoms than adults but are more likely to be chronically infected and develop complications later in life.

How you get hepatitis B

If you have hepatitis B, you are infectious for several weeks before symptoms appear until weeks, months or sometimes years later.

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.

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.

Diagnosing hepatitis B

See your healthcare provider, or call Healthline for advice if you think you might have hepatitis B, or have had close contact with someone who has it.

There is a blood test that checks for the disease.

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.

Treatment for 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. Some people will continue to carry the virus in their blood.

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.

Your healthcare provider may refer you to see a specialist doctor who will check how well your liver is working.

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.

Some people with CHB might be given medical treatment to reduce these risks.

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.

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