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revised May 16, 2013

Arrow BulletCommunicable Diseases - Hepatitis B

Frequently Asked Questions and Answers .

Download our Hepatitis B fact sheet
English (PDF 65KB, 1 page)
Chinese (PDF 164KB, 1 page)
Punjabi (PDF 73KB, 1 page)
Urdu (PDF 96KB, 1 page)
Vietnamese (PDF 77KB, 1 page)

Advice for Hepatitis B Carriers
English (PDF 65KB, 1 page)
Chinese (PDF 173KB, 1 page)
Punjabi (PDF 70KB, 1 page)
Urdu (PDF 95KB, 1 page)
Vietnamese (PDF 73KB, 1 page)

What is Hepatitis B?

  • Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is one of several viruses that cause hepatitis, an acute or chronic inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis can lead to liver damage and possibly cancer.
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What are the symptoms?

  • Some people who become infected with hepatitis may have no symptoms. Others develop flu-like symptoms, such as fatigue and nausea and can become very ill with fever, abdominal pain, dark urine, clay coloured stools and jaundice (yellow eyes and skin). Complications of hepatitis include chronic liver disease such as cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure.
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Who is a chronic carrier?

  • A hepatitis B carrier is a person who carries the virus in their blood and certain body fluids for the rest of their life. Carriers look and feel well but can continue to pass the infection to others. Twenty-five percent of carriers develop cirrhosis (scarring) or cancer of the liver later in life. About 6-10% of those infected in adulthood will carry the virus for life and can infect others. If a person is exposed to the hepatitis B virus earlier in life, such as in infancy there is a higher chance they will become a carrier.
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How is HBV spread?

  • Hepatitis B is spread through contact with blood or certain body fluids (semen, vaginal fluids) of an infected person. The infected fluids must enter a break in the skin or be absorbed through a mucous membrane (eyes, nose, vagina, anus).
  • Hepatitis B can be spread:
    • Through contact with a surface contaminated with infected blood/body fluid as the hepatitis B virus can live on surfaces for up to one week.
    • Through sexual activity.
    • By sharing drug related equipment such as needles, spoons, straws, and filters.
    • By using non-sterile equipment for tattooing, body piercing, acupuncture and aesthetic procedures.
    • By an infected mother, who can pass the virus to her baby at birth.
    • Receiving blood transfusions or blood products that have not been screened for hepatitis B. In Canada, all blood is screened for the hepatitis B virus
    • The risk for HBV infection among international travelers is low. However, the risk of HBV infection is considered higher in countries where the prevalence of chronic HBV infection is intermediate or high.
    • Hepatitis B is not spread by water, food, kissing, sneezing or coughing. Saliva does contain the virus, but needs to enter the blood stream directly, such as a bite.
  • Although these risks have been identified, sometimes it is not possible to determine how a person became infected with the virus.
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How do I know if I have hepatitis B?

  • A blood test can detect hepatitis B. You should discuss testing with your health professional (nurse, doctor), especially if you have risk factors. If you test positive, your doctor may refer you to a specialist to determine whether or not you require treatment. Blood tests should also be done for hepatitis A and hepatitis C.
  • Healthy Sexuality Clinics - locations
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How can I protect myself from getting hepatitis B?

  • Get the Hepatitis B vaccine.
  • Avoid contact with other people's blood and body fluids.
  • Ensure sterile/new equipment is used for drug use, tattooing, body/ear piercing, acupuncture or aesthetic procedures.
  • Avoid unprotected sexual activity; use a condom/ dental dam every time.
  • Do not share personal care items that could come in contact with blood (razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers, nail files).
  • Cover cuts or sores on your skin with bandages.
  • Dispose of blood stained articles (tampons, dental floss, and bandages) in a tied plastic bag.
  • If exposed to blood in a first aid situation wear gloves, clean and disinfect blood stained surfaces, dispose of blood stained articles in a plastic bag and wash your hands after removing gloves.
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Resources for more information

  • Further information can be obtained from:
    • Canadian Liver Foundation: 416-964-1953, 1-800-563-5483
    • Peel Public Health: 905-799-7700
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Revised: May 16, 2013


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