What is hepatitis B and how common is it?
Hepatitis B (sometimes referred to as ‘hep B’ or ‘HBV’) is an inflammation of the liver caused by the hepatitis B virus. Northern Canada, Sub Saharan Africa and South-East Asia have the highest prevalence of hepatitis B. Rates of hepatitis B in the UK are low, estimated at between 0.1% and 0.5% of the UK population, with London being the highest prevalence area.
How do you get hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B virus can be present in blood, semen and vaginal fluids and is transmitted in the following ways:
- Injecting drug use
- Being injured by a used needle
- Unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex
- Tattooing or piercing with unsterilised equipment
- Blood transfusion in a country that does not screen blood for hepatitis B.
(Blood transfusions in the UK are screened for hepatitis B before being used)
- If you’re pregnant and have hepatitis B, you can also pass it on to your baby during pregnancy or birth
How is hepatitis B diagnosed?
Hepatitis B is diagnosed by a blood test. A blood test can also detect if a person has immunity or has been previously exposed to hepatitis B.
How is hepatitis B treated?
Hepatitis B usually clears up on its own without treatment. You may be offered medicine to help with the symptoms, such as painkillers or medicines to stop you feeling sick.
You will be referred to see a liver specialist who will check how well your liver is working.
If hepatitis B lasts for over 6 months it is called long-term (chronic) hepatitis B.
Chronic hepatitis B is treated with antivirals and medicine to help relieve symptoms such as itchiness, pain, and sickness. You will also need to see a liver specialist for regular check-ups.
What are the signs of a new hepatitis B infection?
Symptoms of hepatitis B include:
- Abdominal pain
- Patches of raised skin that may be itchy (hives)
- Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
Vaccination for hepatitis B
Who can get a hepatitis B vaccination?
At Brighton SHAC the following groups of people are eligible for a free hepatitis B vaccine:
- Men who have sex with men
- Gender diverse individuals
- People living with HIV
- People who inject drugs
- Sex workers
- Any regular sexual partner of someone with chronic hepatitis B
Hepatitis B vaccination is also routinely offered after someone has been sexually assaulted. There is evidence that if given within 72 hours the vaccine course gives good protection against hepatitis B.
How do I book an appointment for a hepatitis B vaccination?
If you attend as a new patient and are eligible for hepatitis B vaccinations, we will do a blood test at your first appointment to see if you already have immunity to hepatitis B. We will contact you to let you know your results by text, with a message that says ‘your results show you have no immunity to hepatitis B’. Vaccinations can be given at routine sexual health appointments where needed. If you believe you might be at risk of hepatitis B infection, are eligible and have not been previously tested or vaccinated please call us to book an appointment on 01273 523 388
What is the hepatitis B vaccination schedule?
There are 2 schedules that can be followed:
- Standard vaccine schedule: Day 1, then after 1, 2 & 12 months
- Accelerated schedule: Day 1, then after 7 & 21 days with & booster one year later
(For example, if concerned about recent exposure)
What follow up do I need after completing a course of hepatitis B vaccinations?
After you have finished your vaccine course you will be offered a blood test to check that you have a good level of protection against hepatitis B. Some people need a stronger course to build enough antibodies for protection. Some people don’t create antibodies to protect them against hepatitis B even though they have been given vaccinations (non-responders). If this happens, we will discuss other ways of reducing the risk of acquiring hepatitis B.
Are there any side effects from having the vaccine?
Hepatitis B vaccinations are generally very well tolerated. Some people experience temporary redness of the skin to the injection site.
Vaccination for hepatitis B for people living with HIV
People living with HIV are likely to have a slower immune response to vaccinations and so need a slightly different dose of hepatitis B vaccines. If you are living with HIV, please let the person vaccinating you know so they can make sure you are given the correct vaccine course.
Hepatitis B vaccination for occupational risk
Please note we are funded to provide hepatitis B vaccinations for the purpose of preventing the sexual transmission of the virus. If you want a hepatitis B vaccine because of the job you do, we are unfortunately unable to provide this at Brighton and Hove SHAC. Occupational health services and GP surgeries may provide hepatitis B vaccination if you are at occupational risk, for example, Police and Emergency Services.
Other frequently asked questions about hepatitis B
What about if I’m pregnant or trying to get pregnant and test positive for hepatitis B?
A test for hepatitis B is part of routine ante-natal screening. If you have a positive result or already know that you have hepatitis B you will be referred to the liver specialist and your baby will be given additional hepatitis B vaccinations to greatly reduce the risk of transmission.