Communicable Diseases - Hepatitis B

Communicable Disease Prevention and Control

Hepatitis B - Blood-Borne Diseases

Hepatitis B is an infection of the liver caused by a virus.  The virus is in the blood, semen, and vaginal fluids of a person who has the disease. 

How is Hepatitis B transmitted?

The virus can be spread during sex, by sharing dirty needles to inject drugs, and by getting blood or other infected body fluids in a mucous membrane (mouth or eyes) or on broken skin.  It may be sexually transmitted through genital or anal contact with an infected person. 

The virus also can be passed from mother to baby, usually at the time of birth.  The virus is not spread by casual contact.  It takes 2-6 months from the time of exposure to onset of symptoms.

What are the symptoms?

The virus is in the body for several weeks or even months before symptoms become evident.  Up to 50% of people who have Hepatitis B have no symptoms at all.  Of adults who get the disease, up to 10 % will carry the virus for the rest of their lives. 

Symptoms include:

  • Tiredness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Yellow skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • Urine dark in colour, stool light in colour

A blood test is needed for a diagnosis of Hepatitis B.

What is the treatment?

There is no specific treatment for Hepatitis B.  People with the disease need to rest and maintain a proper diet. Some people need to be hospitalized, and some will need to take a medication prescribed by their doctor. Alcohol should also be avoided.

Be sure to talk to your doctor before taking any over-the-counter medication.

How can Hepatitis B be prevented?

  • Practice safe sex.
  • Do not share needles, razors, toothbrushes, sexual toys, etc.
  • Clean up spills of body fluids or blood of an infected person with a 1:10 solution of household bleach.
  • Get a Hepatitis B vaccination if you are at high risk of contracting the disease.
  • Use only professional tattoo artists and body-piercing artists working in legitimate, reputable salons.

People with the Hepatitis B virus should tell their doctors, dentists, dental hygienists and all of their sexual partners that they are infected.   All sexual partners of those who carry Hepatitis B should be vaccinated.