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What is HBV?

Hepatitis B is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV) that targets the liver. Within 6 months of becoming infected with HBV, nearly 90 percent of individuals will clear the virus on their own (acute hepatitis B) and develop lifelong protection against it. The remaining 10 percent of people who are unable to clear the virus, will become chronic carriers, meaning they are chronically infected and infectious.

It is estimated that between 0.7 and 0.9 percent of Canada’s population is chronically infected with HBV. About five percent of people in Canada have had hepatitis B at some point in their lives. The overall reported rate of acute hepatitis B infection was 0.74 (individuals infected) per 100,000 people living in Canada in 2008.

Chronic hepatitis B infection is treatable. There is also a vaccine to prevent getting the infection.

How is hepatitis B transmitted?

HBV is found in the blood and body fluids (including semen, vaginal fluid and saliva) of an infected person. The virus is most commonly spread through: sexual contact with an infected person with HBV; sharing contaminated needles and other equipments (such as straws, pipes, spoons and cookers); by sharing personal care items such as razors, scissors, nail clippers or a toothbrush with an infected person; or from an infected mother to newborn infant at the time of birth.

In countries where the infection is widespread and where standard precautions are not always practiced during medical or dental procedures, transmission of the virus is common. The virus can also be transmitted in the workplace from exposure to an infected person’s blood or body fluids. Transmission through saliva not visibly contaminated with blood is uncommon. HBV is about 100 times more infectious than HIV.

Hepatitis B is NOT spread by:

– coughing, sneezing;
– touching or shaking hands;
– breastfeeding (unless the nipples are cracked and bleeding);
– using toilet seats;
– hugging and dry kissing; or
– other casual contact

What are the symptoms of hepatitis B?

Symptoms associated with HBV infection can include yellowing of the skin and eyes, fatigue, poor appetite, nausea, dark urine, pale stools, joint pain and pain in stomach area.

About half of the people infected with HBV do not have any symptoms – that is why it is important to take precautions against HBV, and to get tested.

Why is the liver important?

It is necessary to keep your liver healthy because it plays a key role in your overall health. It helps digest food and stores vitamins and minerals. It acts as a filter for chemicals and other substances that enter your body as well as helps to produce blood and proteins that keep your body working.

Why is HBV a health concern?

Because people with a chronic HBV infection are at an ongoing risk of transmitting the virus to others and of developing serious health complications such as scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) or even liver cancer.

How can I protect myself and others against HBV?

In fact, there is a safe and effective vaccine available to prevent you from getting hepatitis B. In Canada, all provinces and territories have free immunization programs for children and certain groups of adults.

If you are pregnant and infected with hepatitis B, it is important for you to know that your infant is at a high risk of becoming infected. It is recommended that infants born to infected mothers receive a special injection immediately after birth, as well as, the first dose of vaccine within 12 hours of birth to help prevent spread of infection.

In addition to immunization, there are other precautions that may also help you to avoid infection with HBV and other sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections:

– Never share needles/syringes, spoons, drug solutions, filters, cookers, pipes, straws used for snorting drugs, and other drug related equipment;
– Do not share personal items like nail clippers, razors, or toothbrushes;
– If you are getting a tattoo, body piercing or acupuncture done, make sure only fresh, single-use, disposable needles are used and that all other equipment is disinfected and sterile;
– If you are likely to be in contact with blood or other bodily fluids in your work (nurse or lab technician), take appropriate precautions, such as wearing latex gloves;
– Practice safer sex. Use condoms and/or dental dams to reduce the risk of acquiring HBV; and
– Be careful when travelling abroad in countries where HBV is widespread.

How can I find out if I have hepatitis B?

If you think you may be at risk for hepatitis B, consult your health care provider. A blood test can determine if you have been exposed to the virus.

What if I have hepatitis B?

If you are newly infected with HBV, your health care provider will need to perform further blood tests over time to see if you get rid of the virus. If you clear the virus, this means you had an acute infection. Once the virus has cleared, you will no longer be infected and will not be able to transmit the virus to others.
If you don’t clear the virus over time, this means you have a chronic HBV infection.

Various medications are available to treat chronic hepatitis B and to help protect against liver damage. Your health care provider may also advise vaccination against hepatitis A to further lessen the likelihood of liver damage.

People with hepatitis B should avoid or limit alcohol consumption because it can further impair the liver and cause rapid progression of liver disease.

If you have either an acute or chronic infection, you should advise anyone who may have been exposed to your bodily fluids (e.g., sexual partners, people you live with, and health care workers). These people should consult a health care provider right away as there are ways to prevent them from getting the infection.

If you have acute or chronic hepatitis B, you may infect others. To prevent spreading the virus:

– Never donate blood, tissue, organs or semen;
– Use condoms/dental dams to limit transmission of HBV because the risk of sexual transmission is high;
– Advise your sexual partner(s) and individuals living in your household to be assessed for HBV immunity and immunization;
– Never share materials used to prepare, inject or inhale drugs (needles/syringes, spoons, drug solutions, water, filters, cookers, pipes, straws);
– Never share sharp instruments/personal care items (e.g., toothbrushes, razors, or nail clippers) with others;
– If you are getting a tattoo or planning to have body piercing or acupuncture done, ensure that sterile equipment is used;
– If you are pregnant, inform your health care provider so that all the necessary precautions for the baby are taken at or soon after birth; and
– Cover open wounds or sores.


Hepatitis B is a vaccine-preventable disease.

Chronic hepatitis B is treatable. If you think you are at risk of infection, it is important to find out if you have HBV so that you can take the necessary steps to protect yourself and others as well as to obtain proper medical attention to manage your infection.

Source: Public Health Agency of Canada