How hepatitis B is spread
Hepatitis B can be spread by:
- a mother to her newborn baby, particularly in countries where the infection is common – all pregnant women in the UK are offered screening for hepatitis B; babies of infected mothers are vaccinated immediately after birth to help prevent infection
- injecting drugs and sharing needles and other drug equipment, such as spoons and filters
- having sex with an infected person without using a condom
- having a tattoo, body piercing, or medical or dental treatment in an unhygienic environment with unsterilised equipment
- having a blood transfusion in a country where blood is not tested for hepatitis B – all blood donations in the UK are now tested for the infection
- sharing toothbrushes or razors contaminated with infected blood
- the skin being accidentally punctured by a used needle (needle stick injury) – this is mainly a risk for healthcare workers
- the blood of someone with hepatitis B getting into an open wound, cut or scratch – in rare cases, being bitten by someone with hepatitis B can also spread the infection
Hepatitis B is not spread by kissing, holding hands, hugging, coughing, sneezing or sharing crockery and utensils.
Who's most at risk of hepatitis B
People at highest risk of hepatitis B include:
- people born or brought up in a country where the infection is common
- babies born to mothers infected with hepatitis B
- people who have ever injected drugs
- anyone who has had unprotected sex, including anal or oral sex – particularly people who have had multiple sexual partners, people who have had sex with someone in or from a high-risk area, men who have sex with men, and commercial sex workers
- close contacts, such as family members, of someone with a long-term (chronic) hepatitis B infection
The risk of getting hepatitis B for travellers going to places where the infection is common is generally considered to be low if these activities are avoided.
Your GP can arrange for you to have a blood test to check for hepatitis B and have the hepatitis B vaccination if you're at a high risk.
Hepatitis B is found throughout the world, but is particularly common in:
- sub-Saharan Africa
- east and southeast Asia
- the Pacific Islands
- parts of South America
- southern parts of eastern and central Europe
- the Middle East
- the Indian subcontinent
Most new cases of hepatitis B in the UK occur in people who caught the infection in one of these areas before moving to the UK.