Hepatitis B - sexual health contacts

Quick facts:

  • Hepatitis B is an infection caused by the hepatitis B virus which inflames the liver.
  • Hepatitis B is one of the most common sexually transmissible infections worldwide. 
  • Hepatitis B is a major cause of chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma.

Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis can be caused by alcohol, some drugs and chemicals, and by infection. Hepatitis B is one form of hepatitis caused by the hepatitis B virus. It is one of the most serious types of hepatitis and one of the most common sexually transmissible infections (STIs) in the world.

Signs and Symptoms: 

Most children and up to half of the adults with hepatitis B have no symptoms at the time they are first infected. Others do get sick and some people may become very unwell and need to be admitted to hospital.

The early signs of infection include:

  • pain in the abdomen
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • weakness and tiredness
  • loss of appetite
  • general aches and pains
  • fever.

This may be followed by:

  • skin and whites of the eyes start to look yellow (jaundice)
  • urine may become dark in colour
  • faeces (stools) can be pale-coloured.

Blood tests can be taken to check for hepatitis B. Blood tests show if a person has had hepatitis B in the past, has an acute (or new) infection, or has chronic infection (that has existed for 6 months or more). Tests of the liver including a fibroscan (similar to an ultrasound) can also show if there is any damage to the liver.

If you find out that you have hepatitis B, your close contacts (including sexual contacts) may need to be tested. This is to see if they are infected and to prevent further spread of the infection. If you feel uncomfortable or embarrassed about telling your partner or partners, the doctor, nurse or health worker can contact them. This is a confidential process, and your name will not be mentioned.

There is no specific treatment for hepatitis B. People with acute hepatitis B are advised to:

  • rest
  • drink plenty of fluids
  • avoid fatty/oily foods
  • avoid alcohol
  • go back to their doctor for check-ups so tests can be done to make sure the liver improves and the infection clears.

There are treatments available for chronic hepatitis B. People with chronic hepatitis B may be referred to specialist liver doctors to discuss treatment choices and there are also some specially trained general practitioners that can monitor people with chronic hepatitis B. If you have hepatitis B you need to be monitored regularly as there is a risk of developing liver cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. People with chronic hepatitis B are advised to:

  • limit or avoid alcohol
  • maintain a healthy well balanced diet
  • get adequate rest
  • have regular liver check ups with your GP and/or specialist.

There is a reliable and safe vaccine available to prevent the spread of hepatitis B.

People who should be tested for hepatitis B and vaccinated if not immune include:

  • gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men
  • sex workers
  • people who inject drugs
  • health care workers
  • people with hepatitis C
  • childcare workers
  • people with HIV
  • sexual partners of people with hepatitis B
  • men and women who have a lot of sexual partners
  • men and women who have been sexually assaulted.

People who inject drugs should also take the following precautions:

  • always use sterile needles, syringes and injecting equipment
  • never share injecting equipment
  • dispose of equipment in solid, puncture proof and sealed containers to reduce risk of needle stick injury to others
  • never recap needles.

Practicing safe sex means taking care not to exchange body fluids during sex.

  • Using condoms or dental dams when you have vaginal or anal sex is the best way to reduce your risk of hepatitis B. Using a water-based lubricant with condoms is recommended. If you are having oral sex, use a condom or dental dam for protection.
Health outcome: 

People with hepatitis B:

  • must not donate blood, semen, or organs
  • should inform their doctor, dentist and other relevant health workers of their hepatitis B status
  • should contact their recent sexual partners and close contacts and advise them to have a sexual health check.
Other resources: 

Related Content

Safe Sex

Help and assistance: 

Get qualified health advice 24/7 for the cost of a local call 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84).

This factsheet provides general information and is not intended to replace the need to see a health professional or have a sexual health check. For more information on hepatitis B or sexual health please talk to a healthcare provider. A doctor, nurse or health worker can assist with:

  • providing appropriate tests, treatment and information about how to prevent STIs
  • helping people to ensure that their sexual partners get tested and treated.