Hepatitis B

What is Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver caused by several viruses.  There are three principal kinds, hepatitis A, B, and C. Hepatitis A is caused by the hepatitis A virus, B by the B virus, and C by the C virus.

Hepatitis B occurs worldwide.  It is a common illness in injecting drug users and in some occupational settings, such as haemodialysis centres, homes for developmentally disabled persons and some health care settings.

How do you get Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is transmitted by activities that involve contact with blood, blood products or other body fluids.  These activities include:  unprotected sexual contact, injection drug use with shared needles and other paraphernalia, transfusions with blood or blood products that have not been screened for the virus, work in health care fields where there is exposure to human blood, dental, medical or cosmetic procedures (tattooing, body piercings) with needles or other equipment that may be contaminated with blood, exposure to potentially contaminated blood through abrasions or wounds on the skin, or mucous membranes (eye, nose, mouth) that come into contact with contaminated blood.

Susceptibility and Resistance

Humans are generally susceptible to hepatitis B virus infection.  Prolonged immunity follows infection with hepatitis B, provided the disease does not progress to the chronic phase.  

Incubation Period

The incubation period for Hepatitis B is 45-180 days.

What are the Symptoms?

Hepatitis B illness usually has a slow beginning with loss of appetite, some abdominal discomfort, nausea and vomiting.  The disease may be mild and unapparent in young children and even 30-50 percent of adults.  Jaundice may or may not be present.  However, some patients may progress rapidly to a severe form with major damage to the liver and resulting death.  Other patients may progress to a chronic long-lasting infection with gradual loss of liver function (cirrhosis of the liver) that may lead to liver failure.

Preventative Measures

There is an effective vaccine for hepatitis B. If possible, travellers should avoid blood transfusions unless the blood has been screened.  Travellers should avoid injection drug use, unprotected sexual activity, and tattooing or piercing with unsterilised equipment.


There is no specific treatment for acute hepatitis B other than supportive measures.



Where Does It Commonly Occur?

The risk for hepatitis B for international travellers is low, even though this virus occurs worldwide. There are higher levels of hepatitis B in countries in northern South America, sub-Saharan Africa, parts of the Middle East, China, and Southeast Asia.