- Hepatitis B is a common virus that affects millions of people around the world.
- Most people with chronic hepatitis B got the virus when they were born or as a small child. There is more chance of this happening in countries with higher levels of the virus (the UK is not one of them).
- Most adults fight off the virus within 6 months. This is called acute hepatitis B. Symptoms can be like a mild flu, or you may not have any symptoms.
- Chronic hepatitis B is an infection that lasts longer than 6 months. It is usually lifelong.
- Living with hepatitis B can lead to liver damage. This increases the chance of serious liver disease (cirrhosis) and liver cancer. Most people with hepatitis B do not get cirrhosis or liver cancer.
- There is a very good vaccine against hepatitis B. All babies born in the UK after 2017 are vaccinated. People at risk can get the vaccine for free.
- Hepatitis B cannot be cured. There are treatments that can help control the virus and stop or slow down any liver damage. Whether you have treatment depends on how active the virus is.
People who pick up hepatitis B as an adult usually fight off the virus before it can cause any harm. A short-term infection of 6 months or less is called acute hepatitis B. Acute hepatitis B usually doesn’t need any treatment and you may never know you had it.
When a hepatitis B infection lasts for more than 6 months it is called chronic hepatitis B. Chronic means long-lasting. People with chronic hepatitis B usually have the virus for the rest of their lives. The most important thing that affects whether someone is likely to get a chronic infection is how well their immune system works.
Some people with acute hepatitis B have symptoms that are like a mild bout of flu.
Most people with hepatitis B do not get cirrhosis or liver cancer. Treatment to keep the virus under control reduces the risk of cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Read more about how hepatitis B causes liver disease .
Chronic hepatitis B can lead to other problems with your health. Many of these problems are related to inflammation and the immune system.
For example, hepatitis B can also cause:
- inflammation of blood vessels (vasculitis)
- kidney problems (glomerulonephritis)
- problems with your joints, bones and muscles (rheumatological conditions).
Your clinical team can tell you more about these problems and the chance of you being affected. Treatment to control the hepatitis B virus helps reduce these effects on your health.
Living with hepatitis B might also increase the chances of having a type of cancer called non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The most common symptom is having one or more painless swellings in your neck, groin or armpit. If you get swellings or notice any other unusual changes to your body, tell your doctor.
Published July 2023
Review due: July 2026