The hepatitis B virus can live in blood and sexual fluids. Hep B can be a risk if there is blood-to-blood contact with someone with hep B. Unprotected sex can also be a transmission risk for hep B.
Hep B can’t be passed on through saliva, skin, or air – so these are not transmission risks for hep B. When a mother with hep B gives birth to a baby, she should wait to breastfeed until her baby has had its first hep B injections in the hospital (hep B immunoglobulin and the first of 4 hep B vaccinations). After this breastmilk is not a transmission risk.
How Do You Get Hep B?
Hep B can be passed on through blood-to-blood contact, unprotected sex or from mother to baby (at birth).
Transmission risks for hep B are:
- From a mother with hep B to her baby at birth – this is the most common way hep B is transmitted.
- Exposure to hep B in early childhood.
- Unprotected sexual activity
- Sharing injecting drug equipment
- Unsterile cosmetic or medical procedures.
- Unsterile tattooing or piercing
- Unsterile traditional practices such as traditional tattooing, circumcision, initiation rituals involving blood, and scarification
- Needlestick injuries when working in healthcare.
- Sharing personal items that might have traces of blood on them including toothbrushes, combs, nail clippers or razors
Hep B is not transmitted by kissing, sneezing, hugging or coughing. You also won’t get hep B if you eat food or drink beverages prepared by someone who has it. Without direct contact with blood or sexual fluids from the person with hep B, you are not at risk of hep B.
Groups at High Risk of Hep B Transmission
Hep B can only be passed on through blood-to-blood contact, unprotected sex or during birth – so you might be at risk of having hep B if you:
- have moved to Australia from a country where hep C is widespread
- were born to a mother who was hep B positive during her pregnancy
- live or have lived with someone with hep B
- have or have had a sexual partner who has hep B
- have ever injected drugs or steroids
- are in prison or have ever been in prison
- have had blood transfusions, blood products or organ transplant in Australia before February 1990
- are of Aboriginal ancestry
- have ever had a tattoo or body piercing
- are a man who has had sex with men
- have ever worked as a sex worker
- have had a needle-stick injury
- have had unprotected sex
- have had unsterile cosmetic or medical procedures.
- have had unsterile tattooing or piercing
- have ever taken part in unsterile traditional practices such as traditional tattooing, circumcision, initiation rituals involving blood, and scarification
- share or have shared personal items that might have traces of blood on them including toothbrushes, combs, nail clippers or razors
- do not meet the above profiles but have abnormal liver function tests or experience hep B symptoms
What Should You Do If You Think You Have Hep B?
If you think you might be at risk for hep B, there are many ways we can help you. We can offer you support, answer questions and help you find health services near you:
- Get a hep B test: Take a look at our NSW Services Directory to find a hep B testing doctor near you.
- Speak to someone:
- call 1800 803 990 to speak confidentially with one of our Hepatitis Infoline workers
- use our online ‘Live Chat’, available on every page of our website.
- Read about hep B: Order one of our free resources about hep B
- Learn more about testing: Have a look at our charts about hep B testing
How Can I Prevent Hep B?
Hep B is only passed on through blood-to-blood contact, sexual fluids and from mother to baby at birth. The best way to avoid hep B is to get vaccinated. You can be vaccinated at doctors clinics or sexual health clinics.
This page last updated 9 Jan 2018