• Getting medicine for chronic hepatitis B helps you keep healthy. But it can't get rid of the virus.
  • Not all people with hepatitis B will need to take medicines.
  • Getting liver check-ups helps to work out if you need medicine for hepatitis B.

Medicines for hepatitis B help you live well with the virus. They are not a cure. But they will make you much less likely to get liver disease or liver cancer. Many people who have chronic hepatitis B do not have any signs of liver damage, and will not need medicine. It is important to watch for liver damage by getting liver check-ups every 6 to 12 months.

If you have signs of liver damage you should think about taking medicines for hepatitis B. There are lots of reasons why you might decide to do this. Talk to your doctor about whether starting treatment is right for you.

There are a few options for medicines that treat chronic hepatitis B. You can get them through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). So if you have a Medicare card, you can get them at low cost.

What medicines treat hepatitis B?

The most common medicines for hepatitis B are antiviral tablets. You take these every day for a year or longer. The most common ones used in Australia are:

  • Entecavir (Baraclude® and others)
  • Tenofovir (Viread®)

Both are very good at treating hepatitis B. But you need to take them every day, or they won't work. If you stop and start taking the pills, they are less likely to work. While you are taking them, you will need to keep seeing your doctor. This is to check the medicine is working and that you are not having any side effects. The check-ups are usually every 3 months in the first year, then every 6 months after that.

A less common option is pegylated interferon (PEG-IFN). This means having an injection once a week, for 48 weeks. It is an option for people with some forms of hepatitis B. But for some people it has a lot of side effects.

Who needs to take medicine?

Not everyone who has hepatitis B needs to take medicine. But this can change over time. Some people may not need medicines at the start, but need them later on. So it's important that you keep getting liver check-ups. Your doctor will tell you if you need to start taking medicine. This can depend on many things.

Some of the things that help your doctor decide whether you should start treatment are:

  • what phase the hepatitis B virus is in
  • whether your liver tests show certain enzymes
  • whether your liver shows scarring or swelling
  • if you have someone in your family with liver cancer or liver scarring

What does hepatitis B medicine do?

The medicines work by slowing down or stopping the multiplying of hepatitis B virus in the body. This greatly lowers your chance of getting serious liver disease. In some cases it even allows your liver to fix some of the damage so it works better. It is very unlikely that any of these medicines will cure hepatitis B. But you still need to keep taking them to keep your liver healthy.

Download this factsheet

References

Treatment of chronic hepatitis B virus infection, B Positive, ASHM

What is Hepatitis B?, All Good, ASHM

Hep B Story, Menzies School of Health Research

Chronic Hepatitis B Phases, Hepatitis Queensland

Page updated: 7 November 2022