Hepatitis B: How can I protect myself?

16 July 2015 | Q&A

Hepatitis B is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). The virus interferes with the functions of the liver and causes pathological damage. A small percentage of infected people cannot get rid of the virus and become chronically infected – these people are at higher risk of death from cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer.

HBV is spread by contact with blood or body fluids of an infected person – the same way as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). However, HBV is 50 to 100 times more infectious than HIV.

The main ways of getting infected with HBV are:

  • from mother to baby at the birth (perinatal)
  • from child-to-child
  • unsafe injections and transfusions
  • unprotected sexual contact.

Worldwide, most infections occur from mother-to-child, from child-to-child (especially in household settings), and from reuse of unsterilized needles and syringes. Before the widespread use of the hepatitis B vaccine, almost all children in developing countries used to become infected with the virus.

Hepatitis B virus is NOT spread by sharing eating utensils, breastfeeding, hugging, kissing, holding hands, coughing, sneezing or by recreational use of public pools or the like.

You can protect yourself against hepatitis B by being vaccinated. The hepatitis B vaccine has an outstanding record of safety and effectiveness, and since 1982, over 1 billion doses have been used worldwide. The vaccine is 95% effective in preventing chronic infections from developing. Protection lasts for 20 years at least, no booster is recommended by WHO as of today.