Hepatitis B (HBV)

Hepatitis B is an infection of the liver. It is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). The virus is most commonly spread through sexual activity with an infected person and exposure to blood and body fluids. People with chronic HBV infection are at an increased risk of developing serious health complications.


Symptoms generally appear two to six months after initial contact with HBV. About 50 percent of those infected will develop symptoms. When symptoms appear in these people, they can include jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, dark urine, pale stools, joint pain and belly pain. People with chronic infection may develop health complications such as liver damage or liver cancer.


HBV is found in the blood and body fluids (saliva, semen, and vaginal fluid) of an infected person. The virus is usually spread through sexual contact or contact with blood. Contact with blood can occur when sharing needles and other equipment for drug use. Pregnant people can pass on the infection to their baby during childbirth.

HBV cannot be spread by coughing, sneezing, or touching or shaking hands.


Within six months of becoming infected, about 90 percent of adults will clear the virus on their own. This is known as acute hepatitis B. These individuals will develop lifelong protection against HBV.

The remaining 10 percent who are unable to clear the virus become chronic carriers. This means they are chronically infected and infectious. Not all people need treatment, but there are medications available to treat chronic hepatitis B and to help protect against liver damage.


Hepatitis B can be prevented through immunization. Manitoba has a provincial immunization program that provides free, publicly funded hepatitis B vaccine to those who are eligible. If you are pregnant and infected with hepatitis B, your infant is at high risk of becoming a carrier. It is recommended that infants born to infected people receive an injection of antibodies (hepatitis B immunoglobulin) as well as the first dose of the vaccine within 12 hours of birth. In addition, the infant should receive a second and third dose of the vaccine at one and six months of age. This will help prevent infection.

Vaccination can protect people, but no vaccine is 100% effective. It is important to consider other ways to reduce your risk of exposure, whether or not you have been vaccinated. To protect yourself and reduce your risk of HBV infection:

  • Do not share needles or other equipment for drug use. Use new needles and equipment every time.
  • If you are likely to be in contact with someone else's blood, wear disposable gloves. Also, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 15 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before putting on and after taking off the gloves.
  • When getting a tattoo or body piercing, never allow use of homemade equipment or re-use equipment.
  • Practice safer sex (e.g., use condoms/barrier methods correctly and consistently)

Talk with a doctor or health care provider about your risk for Hepatitis B (HBV). Have an open and honest conversation about your sexual history and testing for STIs. Your doctor can give you the best advice on any testing and treatment that you may need.

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