Hepatitis B is the most widespread form of hepatitis worldwide. It is common in South-East Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle and Far East, Southern Europe and Africa.
The World Health Organisation estimates that one third of the world’s population has been infected at some time and that there are approximately 240 million people who are chronically infected (when the infection lasts longer than six months) . It is estimated that more than 13 million people in the European Region are living with hepatitis B virus.
In the UK, approximately 180,000 people are chronically infected with hepatitis.
In some inner-city areas, with a high percentage of people from parts of the world where the virus is common, as many as one in 60 pregnant women may be infected.
Hepatitis B is known as a ‘blood-borne virus’ (BBV) and can be spread by blood to blood contact. However, hepatitis B is also present in other body fluids such as saliva, semen and vaginal fluid. These can be a source of infection, particularly if they have become contaminated with blood.
The highest amounts of the virus are present in blood. Some people transmit hepatitis B more easily than others because they have more of the virus in their bloodstream. Even a tiny amount of blood from someone who has the virus can pass on the infection if it gets into your bloodstream, through an open wound, a cut or scratch, or from a contaminated needle.
The virus is able to survive outside the body for at least a week. This means
objects and surfaces contaminated with dried blood also pose a risk if not