Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B, sometimes called hep B or HBV, is a virus carried in the blood and body fluids which infects and damages the liver and is the most widespread form of hepatitis worldwide.

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
appropriately cleaned.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis B?

Some people may only have a mild illness and feel they are not ill enough to see a doctor. There are many general symptoms, some of which may be confused with flu.

A few people develop a serious illness and need to be looked after in hospital. More severe symptoms may include: 

  • diarrhoea
  • bowel motions may become pale
  • urine may turn dark
  • jaundice (a condition in which the whites of the eyes go yellow and in more severe cases the skin also turns yellow) 

If you are worried that you may need a test for hepatitis B, download our factsheet: testing for viral hepatitis.


People with the acute phase of hepatitis B, do not require treatment. For the majority of people, the symptoms resolve and the person can ‘clear’ the infection, usually within six months, meaning they are no longer infectious; their blood will always show the hepatitis B antibodies but they should never be infected again (they are considered ‘immune’).

Long term infection is chronic hepatitis B which often requires treatment to stop or reduce the activity of the virus from damaging the liver, by limiting the replication (reproduction) of the virus. Not everyone will require treatment straight away. If you have low levels of the virus in your blood (a low viral load) and there is little sign of liver damage, it is likely that regular monitoring will be recommended and treatment started only if there are signs of disease progression.

Download publication

Download:   Hepatitis B HEB/08/17.PDF

View references here

Reviewed by: Mr Simon Marks; Dr Patrick Kennedy, Consultant Hepatologist at Barts Health NHS Trust;  Dr Sam Douthwaite, Consultant in Infectious Diseases at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust.

Further Information

The British Liver Trust responds to consultations across the UK from a range public bodies and organisations such as the Department of Health, NICE and the NHS.

Recent responses include:


  • April 2019: Response to Department of Health and Social Care Consultation on restricting promotions of products high in fat, sugar and salt by location and by price from British Liver Trust  (link to attached doc)


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