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What is Hepatitis B?

All HOMED-IQ content is reviewed by medical specialists

Hepatitis B is a contagious liver disease caused by the hepatitis B virus. While hepatitis B is curable, it can sometimes lead to a chronic, life-long infection. Transmission of Hepatitis B is possible through sexual contact or contact with infected blood. Have you had unprotected sex or otherwise suspect you may have been exposed? In that case, it is recommended to do a Hepatitis B test, which detects if you have ever been infected with Hepatitis B or have a current infection. This is possible with a home test from Homed-IQ.

What is hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a liver infection that can cause inflammation and damage. Infection occurs when blood, semen, or other body fluids carrying the virus enter your body. This can happen from sexual contact, sharing needles/syringes, or from mother to baby at birth.

What is the difference between acute and chronic hepatitis B?

When you are first infected with hepatitis B, the infection is considered to be acute. Acute hepatitis B usually heals itself on its own. Hepatitis B infections that persist for more than six months are considered to be chronic. Acute hepatitis B infections have few lasting health effects. Conversely, chronic hepatitis B can have serious consequences for the liver if not managed correctly, such as liver cirrhosis, scarring, or fibrosis (UMC Utrecht).

How do you get hepatitis B?

Infection with hepatitis B can occur when infected body fluids enter your body, such as blood or semen. This can happen through sexual contact, blood exposure (such as from sharing syringes or a needle-stick injury), or from mother to baby at birth. Hepatitis B cannot be transmitted through actions like hugging, sharing drinks, or shaking hands.

Can you prevent hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B can be prevented by practicing safe sex and avoiding contact with other people’s blood. For example, by not sharing a razor or syringe with others. It is also possible to be vaccinated against hepatitis B.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis B?

There are several symptoms associated with hepatitis B (Thuisarts, 2016):

  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Itching
  • Sore muscles and bones
  • Spots on the skin
  • Stomachache
  • Dark urine
  • Gray/white stool
  • Yellowing of the whites of the eyes (jaundice)

Can You Have Hepatitis B Without Symptoms?

It is possible to contract hepatitis B without any noticeable symptoms. Symptoms may appear at a later time, or the infection resolve itself without any symptoms at all.

Hepatitis B Testing

A hepatitis B test can be carried out discreetly at home using Homed-IQ’s Hepatitis B test. It only takes a finger prick to do the test, after which a certified laboratory analyzes the blood. Hepatitis B can also be tested with your GP or at many sexual health clinics. Homed-IQ’s Hepatitis B test checks for both current and past infections, so a positive test doesn’t mean you necessarily have Hepatitis B at the time of testing.

What is the incubation period for hepatitis B?

The incubation period for hepatitis B is usually two to three months, but can be between four weeks to six months (RIVM, 2017).

When should you take a hepatitis B test?

Testing for hepatitis B is recommended after unprotected sex, contact with blood, or if a former sex partner advises you to get tested.

Should I be vaccinated against hepatitis B?

Individuals at high risk of infection with hepatitis B are recommended to be vaccinated. For example, people working certain occupations, such as among nursing staff. This also applies to police officers, firefighters, and personnel who work in the funeral industry. This vaccination is also sometimes necessary for travel to certain high-risk countries. Additionally, all children should be vaccinated as children are at much higher risk for chronic hepatitis B. The hepatitis B vaccination is a part of the Dutch national vaccination program for children, as in many other countries.

What is the danger of hepatitis B?

Acute hepatitis B is not dangerous for most people, as the liver inflammation resolves itself within six months in 90% of adults (Stomach Liver Bowel Foundation, 2017). However, chronic hepatitis B can be dangerous, especially if an individual does not know they have it and take appropriate steps to mitigate liver damage. With time, chronic hepatitis B can lead to severe liver inflammation, cirrhosis, liver failure, or liver cancer. 

Can you die from hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B usually heals on its own, but in rare cases complications from chronic hepatitis B can lead to death. Cirrhosis of the liver is a serious condition that can be fatal in the long run. It is also possible that liver cancer occurs as a result of chronic hepatitis B. Luckily, drug treatments are available to manage hepatitis B and its damage to the liver. However, first step to living a healthy life with hepatitis B is knowing that you have it by getting tested.

For how long is hepatitis B contagious?

An acute hepatitis B infection can last up to 6 months and is contagious during this time, even if you do not experience any symptoms. When the virus is cleared from the blood, it is no longer possible to infect others. Whether you still have hepatitis B can be checked with a simple blood test for Hepatitis B surface antigen. Recovery from chronic hepatitis B means that a surface antigen blood test six months after diagnosis will show there is no more hepatitis B virus in the blood. An anti-HBC test such as the test Homed-IQ offers will still be positive even after recovery, as this test is positive for both current and past infections. Hepatitis B in its chronic form is contagious, even without any symptoms and even when medication reduces the amount of virus in the blood to very low levels. Luckily, with vaccination and improved maternal care, individuals living with chronic Hepatitis B can have normal sex lives and give birth to children without passing the virus to them.

Who is at increased risk for hepatitis B?

Anyone who has unprotected sex is at an increased risk for Hepatitis B. This also applies to people who share razor blades or drug syringes, as contact with infected blood can lead to infection. Certain professions are also at a higher risk of hepatitis B, such as medical workers, police officers, firefighters and funeral staff who are in contact with deceased persons. 

How common is hepatitis B in the Netherlands?

In the Netherlands there are about 40,000 people who have chronic hepatitis B. The number of people infected with acute hepatitis B has been declining since 2005 (RIVM, 2022).

How do you treat hepatitis B?

Acute hepatitis B does not require specific treatment. It is wise to avoid alcohol and to live a healthy lifestyle while the infection clears itself. In chronic hepatitis B, there are antiviral drugs that inhibit virus division to limit the inflammation of the liver. Chronic hepatitis B is not curable yet, which means that medication and/or regular checkups are usually required for life. Scientists are currently still researching a cure for chronic hepatitis B.

About the Author

Lauren Dobischok

Lauren is a health scientist and science communicator living in the Netherlands. She has completed a Research Master in Health Sciences at Erasmus University Rotterdam’s Netherlands Institute for Health Sciences (NIHES) with a specialization in epidemiology, and a B.Sc. in Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University. With a background in public health, her goal is to create accurate scientific content that is easy to understand and enables people to make informed decisions. Within Homed-IQ, Lauren serves as Product Developer and Content Lead, working closely with medical doctors and medical device scientists on Homed-IQ’s new products and written communications.