Hepatitis B transmits through exposure to bodily fluids. There are several ways this can happen, so it’s important to reduce your risk and take precautions if you’ve been exposed.

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Hepatitis B is a virus that affects the liver. The virus transmits through bodily fluids like:

  • blood
  • semen
  • vaginal secretions

You could contract hepatitis B in the following scenarios:

  • having sex without a barrier method with a person who has hepatitis B
  • sharing a needle or syringe with someone who has hepatitis B
  • using toothbrushes or razors exposed to blood that contains hepatitis B
  • receiving a tattoo or body piercing with unsterilized equipment
  • touching the blood of someone with hepatitis B when you have an open wound

A newborn baby can also contract hepatitis B during birth if the birthing parent has the virus.

Hepatitis B does not transmit through:

  • kissing
  • sneezing
  • coughing

The World Health Organization estimates that around 296 million people worldwide have hepatitis B. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 1.2 million people in the United States have the condition.

Anybody exposed to bodily fluids containing hepatitis B can contract it. But according to the CDC, the following people are at a higher risk:

  • healthcare workers
  • people who use intravenous drugs
  • infants born to birthing parents who have hepatitis B
  • sexual partners of people with hepatitis B
  • household contacts of people with hepatitis B
  • people receiving dialysis

Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus. There are other forms of hepatitis, namely A, C, D, and E. Hepatitis B can cause an acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term) infection.

The hepatitis B virus is transmitted through bodily fluids, especially blood. It can also be transmitted through semen and vaginal fluids. Although the virus can be detected in saliva, it’s not transmitted through saliva.

Common symptoms of hepatitis B include:

After contracting hepatitis B, you may not experience any notable symptoms for weeks or months.

If you think you’ve been exposed to hepatitis B, consult with a healthcare professional as soon as you can. Early diagnosis treatment can help you avoid liver damage.

Hepatitis B is diagnosed via blood tests. Blood tests can help your clinician determine whether you have hepatitis B and if it’s acute or chronic.

In some cases, your clinician might also suggest a liver ultrasound. An ultrasound can show whether your liver is damaged and to what extent.

The hepatitis B vaccine is the most effective way to prevent infection. You might have to have two or three shots depending on the type of vaccine you receive.

The CDC now recommends the hepatitis B vaccine for:

  • all infants within 24 hours of birth
  • children and adolescents who weren’t vaccinated at birth
  • unvaccinated adults under the age of 59
  • unvaccinated adults ages 60 and older who are at risk of hepatitis B

You can also reduce your risk of exposure to hepatitis B by:

  • using condoms and other barrier methods during sexual activity
  • avoiding exposure to other people’s blood
  • avoiding sharing razors, needles, and toothbrushes with others

If you’re concerned about hepatitis B exposure, consider speaking with a healthcare professional about getting the vaccine.

Hepatitis B can transmit through exposure to bodily fluids, including blood, semen, and vaginal secretions.

You can contract hepatitis B through sex without a condom or other barrier method, shared needles or razors, or unsterilized medical or tattoo equipment. The virus can also be transmitted to an infant during birth.

Hepatitis B can damage your liver. If you think you were exposed to the hepatitis B virus, it’s best to make an appointment with a healthcare professional as soon as possible.

Sian Ferguson is a freelance health and cannabis writer based in Cape Town, South Africa. She’s passionate about empowering readers to take care of their mental and physical health through science-based, empathetically delivered information.