Most people pick up hepatitis B when they are born or as a child
Bleeding is a normal part of birth, so it is easy for the virus to get passed from mother to baby. Mothers may not know they have a hepatitis B infection or be able to stop it being passed on.
In the UK mums-to-be are now tested for hepatitis B. But women giving birth in the past or in other countries may not have been able to have a test or get treatment for their baby.
There is more chance of getting hepatitis B if you or your mother were born or grew up in a country where levels are medium or high. This includes all countries in:
- The Caribbean
- Central and South America
- Eastern and Southern Europe
- The Middle East
- The Pacific islands
Women living with hepatitis B can safely have children. Vaccines and treatments are available that can stop the virus being passed on. These are now part of usual medical care for women with hepatitis B giving birth in the UK. Read more about this on the vaccines page.
Other ways hepatitis B is passed on
You can pick up hepatitis B without knowing. Some people who picked it up as adults do not know how they got hepatitis B. It could be linked to accidents or injuries, for example playing a contact sport before blood safety rules were introduced.
Hepatitis B can be passed on through:
- Having any kind of sex without a condom or dam
- Blood transfusions and medical or dental operations (the UK has processes to stop viruses like hepatitis B being passed on)
- Having a tattoo, piercing, or treatments such as botox or steroid injections with equipment that is shared or not clean
- Needlestick injuries in hospitals, clinics, labs and similar places
- Sharing needles or other things to take drugs such as straws or bank notes
- Sharing personal items like razors or toothbrushes
If you live with hepatitis B, it’s a good idea for close contacts like people you live with to be vaccinated. Hepatitis B can’t get passed on by kissing, hugging or sharing a meal.
Published July 2023
Review due: July 2026