About Hep B

About the Hep B virus

Hepatitis B is the most common liver infection in the world and is caused by the hepatitis B virus. The hepatitis B virus enters the body and travels to the liver via the bloodstream. In the liver, the virus attaches to healthy liver cells and multiplies. This replication of the virus then triggers a response from the body’s immune system. People are often unaware they have been infected with the hepatitis B at this stage.

The liver is the main site of hepatitis B virus multiplication. Hepatitis B infection can lead to cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver cancer, or liver failure, if it is not diagnosed and managed appropriately.

Hepatitis B infection is considered to be ’acute‘ during the first 6 months after infection. If hepatitis B virus tests are positive more than 6 months after infection, a person is usually considered to have ’chronic‘ hepatitis B, which can last a lifetime. Up to 1 in 4 people with chronic hepatitis B will die from liver cancer or liver failure, unless they receive appropriate monitoring and treatment.

Worldwide, an estimated 257 million people have been infected with hepatitis B and, in 2015, around 887,000 people died as a result of hepatitis B.[i] According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), rates of hepatitis B are highest in the Western Pacific and African Regions. In these regions, most people become infected with the hepatitis B virus during childhood.

High rates of hepatitis B infections are also found in the Eastern Mediterranean, South-East Asia and European Regions. Other groups at high risk of hepatitis B infection include Indigenous Australians, people participating in high risk sexual activity and people who inject drugs.[ii]

In Australia, more than 232,000 people have chronic hepatitis B.[iii] Unfortunately, one-third of people living with chronic hepatitis B in Australia have not been diagnosed.

Deaths from primary liver cancer have been climbing faster than any other cause of cancer death in Australia, with untreated chronic hepatitis B being a major contributor.[iv]  Most people diagnosed with liver cancer in Australia die within one to two years – many in the first month after diagnosis.

Please click here to watch an interview with Professor Narci Teoh explaining what you need to know about hepatitis B. The video is also available in Chinese Mandarin. (Filmed 17 July 2013).


[i] World Health Organisation (WHO) 2017. Hepatitis B Fact sheet. Accessed July 2017.

[ii] O’Sullivan, B.G., Gidding, H.F., Law, M., Kaldor, J.M., Gilbert, G.L. & Dore, G.J. 2004. 'Estimates of chronic hepatitis B virus infection in Australia', 2000. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health. 28(3), pp.212–6.

[iii] The Kirby Institute 2016. HIV, viral hepatitis and sexually transmissible infections in Australia: Annual Surveillance Report 2016 (View).


[iv] AIHW 2017. Burden of cancer in Australia: Australian Burden of Disease Study 2011. Australian Burden of Disease Study series no. 12. Cat. no. BOD 13. Canberra: AIHW.