Hepatitis B

Preventing hepatitis B

Anyone who is at increased risk of being infected with the hepatitis B virus, or who could be at risk of serious complications, should consider being vaccinated.

This includes:

  • drug users who self-inject
  • people who change their sexual partners frequently
  • men who have sex with men
  • babies born to infected mothers
  • close family and friends of infected people
  • patients who receive regular blood transfusions or blood products
  • people with any form of liver disease
  • people with chronic kidney disease
  • people travelling to high-risk countries
  • prostitutes
  • people who work somewhere that places them at risk, such as nurses, prison wardens, doctors, dentists and laboratory staff
  • prisoners
  • families adopting children from high-risk countries

Vaccination

Ask your GP or visit any sexual health or GUM (genito-urinary medicine) clinic for the hepatitis B vaccination.

For full protection, you will need three injections of hepatitis B vaccine over a period of four to six months.

A blood test is then taken one month after the third dose, to check that the vaccinations have worked.

You should then be immune (resistant to the virus) for at least five years. A booster injection is usually given five years after the initial injection.

GP surgeries and sexual health or GUM clinics usually provide the hepatitis B vaccination free of charge to people who are in high-risk groups.

GPs are not obliged to provide the hepatitis jab on the NHS if the person is not thought to be at risk, or if it is requested for occupational purposes.

However, a person's employer can enter into a contract with the person's GP or another service to provide the vaccine.

GPs may charge for the vaccine if it is requested in connection with travel abroad or they may refer you to a travel clinic so you can get vaccinated privately.

Other than some redness and soreness at the site of the infection, side effects to the vaccine are rare.

Immunoglobulin

Anyone who has been exposed to the hepatitis B virus should be immediately given an injection of antibodies called immunoglobulin, as well as the hepatitis B vaccine. This is because there is not enough time to wait for the vaccine to work.

Immunoglobulin should ideally be given within 48 hours, but should be considered up to a week after exposure.

Babies

Babies born to infected mothers are given a dose of the hepatitis B vaccine after they are born. This is followed by another two doses (with a month in between each) and a booster dose 12 months later.

Some babies also have an injection of immunoglobulin after they are born, to help prevent being infected.

Last updated: 09 August 2012