Hepatitis B is an acute infection of the liver. It is usually spread through contaminated blood via sexual intercourse, needle sharing, blood transfusions and injections.The virus can also be passed from mother to baby. Tattooing, body piercing and acupunture are other ways in which the virus may be spread.
Hepatitis B occurs worldwide. Areas where there there is a higher risk of exposure to hepatitis B include Eastern Europe, Russia, India, China, South and Central America, Africa, South East Asia and many south pacific islands.
The illness of all forms of hepatitis is similar however infection with hepatitis B is more serious than hepatitis A. Symptoms include mild fever, gastro-intestinal upset, nausea/vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain. Jaundice may also occur.
The illness lasts for about six months. Occasionally, the virus can persist for more than six months in individuals who become chronically infected with hepatitis B. These individuals may be referred to as carriers. Up to a quarter of individuals who are carriers have progressive liver disease which can cause cirrhosis and cancers of the liver.