Fast Facts on Hepatitis B
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Hepatitis B is a virus that attacks the liver. It is transmitted through blood‐to‐blood, or unprotected sexual contact. A pregnant woman with chronic hepatitis B can transmit the virus to her baby; this is the most important mode of transmission globally.
- Two billion people worldwide have been infected with hepatitis B globally, and about 600 000 people die every year due to the consequences of hepatitis B.i
- Despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine, hepatitis B is the most common liver infection in the world. The hepatitis B virus is up to 100 times more infectious than HIV. ii
- In Australia, approximately 225,000 people are living with chronic hepatitis B which is defined as having had the infection for longer than six months. However, nearly half of those living with chronic hepatitis B in Australia are undiagnosed. iii
- People with chronic hepatitis B may feel well even though liver damage is occurring. If not diagnosed and treated, chronic hepatitis B can lead to cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver cancer and liver failure.
- For those already living with chronic hepatitis B, ongoing treatment and monitoring helps provide protection against the development of liver disease and liver cancer.
- 5% of people living with chronic hepatitis B in Australia are currently receiving potentially life‐saving treatment.iii
- Despite the safe and highly effective hepatitis B vaccine being part of the infant immunisation schedule in Australia, many of those at higher risk of infection remain unvaccinated and therefore vulnerable to infection.
- People who were born in the Asia‐Pacific region, or Africa, have often not been vaccinated despite these regions having much higher population rates of hepatitis B and are therefore more vulnerable to infection.
- People in rural and remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities also have a higher burden of chronic hepatitis B than the non‐indigenous population and this is coupled with much poorer health outcomes. v
- Without access to appropriate healthcare, one in four adults who were infected early in life will later die due to complications of
chronic hepatitis B.
- Deaths from primary liver cancer are climbing faster than any other cause of cancer death in Australia and untreated chronic hepatitis B is a major contributor.vi
- Most people diagnosed with liver cancer in Australia die within one to two years – many in the first month after diagnosis.
i WHO Factsheet. Hepatitis B, Factsheet Number 204‐ July 2014. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs204/en/
ii Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, Chronic Hepatitis B and Asian Pacific Islanders. July 2013. http://www.cdc.gov/Features/ChronicHepatitisB/
iii MacLachlan JH, Allard N, Towell V, Cowie BC. The burden of chronic hepatitis B virus infection in Australia, 2011. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 2013; 37(5):416-22.online
iv Cancer Forum March 2012 – Vol 6, Issue 1. Recognising the role of infection: preventing liver cancer in special populations. Kylie S Carville and Benjamin Cowie. http://www.cancerforum.org.au/Issues/2012/March/Forum/Recognising_role_infection.htm
v Department of Health and Ageing. National Hepatitis B Strategy 2010 – 2013. Health.gov.au; online.
vi Cancer Council Australia. National Liver Cancer Prevention Policy. July 2012. http://wiki.cancer.org.au/prevention/Liver_cancer
Page updated: 15 July 2014