Sex, Drugs & BBVs – What is Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is one of several different hepatitis viruses that can cause liver infections and damage. Hepatitis B can be found in the body fluids of infected people and is spread through:

  • sexual contact;
  • household contact;
  • sharing drug injecting equipment, toothbrushes or razors; and
  • from mother to baby during childbirth.

Symptoms can show between 45 to 180 days (60 to 90 days on average) after infection and they can include:

  • weakness;
  • tiredness;
  • poor appetite;
  • nausea and/or vomiting;
  • abdominal discomfort/pain;
  • muscle and joint pain;
  • skin rashes;
  • dark urine and light faeces; and
  • jaundice (yellow colouring of eyes, skin and urine).

Most people recover from the acute infection but may carry the hepatitis B virus long after recovering from symptoms. Chronic infection is more common if infection occurs at a young age and getting the disease as a baby increases the risk of becoming a life carrier of the virus. A carrier may be able to pass it onto other people.

Hepatitis B is a vaccine preventable disease. Hepatitis B vaccination is recommended as part of routine childhood immunisation. It is listed on the National Immunisation Program (NIP) Schedule and funded for children under the Immunise Australia Program. 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; however a consultation fee may apply.

The first dose is given at birth, followed by another 3 doses at 2, 4 and 6 or 12 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 local drug user organisation or local hepatitis council.