Hepatitis B is a viral infection that causes liver inflammation and can lead to serious illness or death. A small proportion of people who become infected with the hepatitis B virus develop a long-term or chronic hepatitis B infection.
Hepatitis B is spread through unsafe sex, sharing unsterile injecting or piercing equipment, or activities where blood or body fluids are exchanged. It can also be passed from an infected mother to her baby. In about 30% of cases the cause is unknown.
Acute hepatitis B infection does not usually require treatment because most adults clear the infection spontaneously.
For the small proportion who develop a chronic infection, treatment may be necessary to reduce the risk of cirrhosis and liver cancer. Others may carry the virus without showing any symptoms or even knowing they have it.
Immunisation is the best protection against hepatitis B infection and is recommended for all infants and young children, adolescents and those in high-risk groups.
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* Hepatitis A, B and C are caused by different viruses so catching one does not offer immunity against the others.