How is hepatitis B transmitted?

Hepatitis B is passed on by infected blood or via other body fluids such as semen, vaginal secretions or saliva. The infected blood or body fluids must enter the bloodstream of an individual for there to be a risk of infection.

The following risk factors could pose potential for hepatitis B transmission:

Unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex

Hepatitis B can be spread via sexual contact. Individuals that engage in high risk sexual behaviours such as unprotected sex without using condoms or dams with multiple partners may be at greater risk


Sharing equipment to inject / snort drugs

This includes steroids or other performance or image enhancing drugs. You only need to have shared equipment once for there to be a risk. Equipment includes needles, syringes, water, filters, spoons, swabs, acidifiers, tourniquets and straws (for snorting drugs). For every injecting episode, new sterile equipment should be used. Needle exchange sites and some pharmacies can provide an Injecting Equipment Provision service in each locality.


Tattooing, body piercing and acupuncture

This may only pose a risk if unsterilised equipment is used and shared – including ink. There is no risk if using licensed premises where infection control procedures are adhered to.


Mother to child

Infection at birth is called perinatal transmission and is the most common way the virus is spread globally. Vaccination at birth prevents the majority of infections. All pregnant women in the UK are screened for hepatitis B.


Sharing personal items

There is no risk of transmission from casual contact, however it is recommended that items such as razors, toothbrushes or nail clippers should not be shared as they may be contaminated with blood.


Blood transfusions or medical / dental treatment outwith the UK

While there is no risk of acquiring hepatitis B via medical or dental treatment in the UK, the risk may be higher if procedures are undertaken in countries that have a high prevalence of hepatitis B and where infection control procedures may not be as strict.


Occupational risk

Healthcare and other emergency workers may be at risk from accidental needlestick injuries, injury from sharp objects or direct exposure to blood and body fluids to an breaks in the skin. Hepatitis B vaccination can prevent transmission


You cannot catch hepatitis B from social contact such as hugging, kissing, shaking hands, sharing crockery or cutlery or sitting on the same toilet seat.