Hepatitis B is a viral infection which can be passed on when sharing needles or having sex with an infected person. In countries where medical equipment is not sterilised properly, hepatitis B is also passed on during medical treatment. Hepatitis B can be passed on when the blood of a hepatitis B patient enters your bloodstream (for example via a wound or scratch), which is why vaccination is recommended for medical professionals and care workers.
Patients who have hepatitis B are often unaware of the infection. In many cases, it does not cause any symptoms. If the infection persists for more than six months it is considered chronic. Chronic hepatitis B can cause complications such as liver damage.
The hepatitis B vaccination is a standard vaccine for healthcare professionals and it is also sometimes recommended for travellers going to countries where the disease is prevalent.
Who is at risk?
You can catch hepatitis B from having sex with an infected partner. Testing is important if you have had unprotected sex with a partner whose sexual health status you don’t know. It is also vital if you have shared needles or have received treatment in a country where medical equipment is not sterilised. The same applies if you have shared razors or similar utensils with an infected person.
Hepatitis C is a blood-borne viral infection which can be transmitted during sex. In most cases, however, hepatitis C is transmitted when sharing needles, which is why it is very common amongst drug users. It can also be passed on when sharing razors, toothbrushes, towels or any other utensils which are contaminated with an infected person's blood.
Often, the virus does not cause any symptoms until the liver has been severely damaged. While one in four people fight the infection off within the first 6 months, three in four develop chronic hepatitis C. There is no vaccination against hepatitis C.
Who is at risk?
Men who have sex with men are believed to have a higher risk of contracting hepatitis C. However, the highest risk group in the UK are drug users who have shared needles at any point in the past. You should get tested if this applies to you, even if you have only injected drugs once.
Hepatitis C is more common in North Africa, the Middle East as well as Central and East Asia. Travellers who have undergone medical treatment/had tattoos or piercings in these countries may also have been exposed to the virus.
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