Hepatitis B is a potentially life threatening liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus. While many people clear the virus, in others it can cause chronic liver disease and puts people at high risk of death from liver cirrhosis or cancer.
The hepatitis B virus is spread through contact with blood or some other body fluids such as semen and vaginal secretions of a person with hepatitis B. Contact occurs through unprotected sexual intercourse, by sharing drug-injecting equipment, razors or toothbrushes, through child-to-child transmission (e.g. biting), or from mothers to babies during childbirth.
Symptoms can show between 45 and 180 days after infection (60-90 days on average) and can include: fever, tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea and/or vomiting, abdominal pain, muscle and joint pain, skin rashes, dark urine and light faeces, and jaundice (yellow colouring of the eyes and skin).
Most people recover from the acute infection but may carry the hepatitis B virus long after recovering from symptoms. Some people develop chronic hepatitis, which can lead to liver failure and cancer. Chronic infection is much more common if infection occurs at a young age; up to 90% of those infected in early infancy will live with a greater risk of developing serious liver disease later in life.
The hepatitis B vaccine offers very effective protection against infection with the disease. Hepatitis B vaccination is recommended as part of routine childhood immunisation. Hepatitis B vaccine is free on the National Immunisation Program Schedule. To receive hepatitis B immunisation, visit your local doctor or immunisation provider. It is important to note that the vaccine is provided at no cost, although a consultation fee may apply.
The first dose is given at birth, followed by another three doses at two, four and six months of age. Immunisation against hepatitis B is achieved using either single-disease or combination vaccines.
- For information about immunisation in your area, contact your state or territory health department.
- For further information on routine childhood immunisation, refer to the understanding childhood immunisation booklet.
- For technical information or information about vaccines, refer to the hepatitis B section of the Australian Immunisation Handbook 10th edition 2013.