Transmission of hepatitis B
Hepatitis B is found in blood and in body fluids, including semen and vaginal fluids. Even though studies have shown minute quantities of the virus can be present in saliva, tears and breast milk, they are not considered to be in high enough levels to transmit the virus.
The most common ways hepatitis B is spread include:
- sexual contact
- sharing of injecting equipment
- needlestick injuries in a health care setting
- reuse of unsterilised or inadequately sterilised needles
- child-to-child transmission through contact such as biting
- sharing personal items such as razors, toothbrushes, or hair and nail clippers
- mother-to-baby, though it is to be noted that the Australian vaccination program has significantly reduced this risk through the administration of the vaccine within 12 hours of birth.
Hepatitis B is NOT spread by contaminated food or water, and cannot be spread through casual or social contact such as kissing, sneezing or coughing, hugging, or eating food prepared by a person with hepatitis B.
To avoid transmission of hepatitis B:
- consider being vaccinated (see below for more details);
- practice safer sex (use a condom)
- wash hands after touching blood or body fluids
- wear disposable gloves if giving someone first aid, or cleaning up blood or body fluids
- avoid sharing toothbrushes, razors, needles, syringes, personal hygiene items and grooming aids or any object that may come into contact with blood or body fluids
- use new and sterile injecting equipment for each injection
- cover all cuts and open sores with a bandaid or bandage
- wipe up any blood spills and then clean the area with household bleach
- throw away personal items such as tissues, menstrual pads, tampons and bandages in a sealed plastic bag.
People who have been exposed to the hepatitis B virus and who have not been vaccinated should receive hepatitis B immunoglobulin (HBIG) within 72 hours of exposure, and a dose of hepatitis B vaccine as soon as possible or within 7 days of the exposure from their general practitioner or local emergency department.