Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is caused by a virus that attacks and damages the liver.

It was a common disease in New Zealand until a vaccine was introduced in the 1980s. Children who have the disease usually develop a very mild illness and sometimes have no sign of illness. The illness is more serious for adults.

On rare occasions, people don’t clear the virus from their blood and continue to carry it. They can infect others with the disease. These people are known as ‘carriers’. Many years later, liver damage and liver cancer may develop in people with hepatitis B.

Your family/whānau’s best protection against hepatitis B is to be immunised against it. Free hepatitis B immunisations are given to children at six weeks, three months and five years old. If you think you or your child may not have had this vaccination, see your doctor.

If you are concerned about hepatitis B call Healthline on 0800 611 116 or see your doctor or practice nurse.

Hepatitis B is passed on through close contact with blood and other body fluids from an infected person, such as from cuts and scratches, sharing toothbrushes, and sex without a condom.

It can also be passed from pregnant women to their babies, usually at birth.

If you have hepatitis B, you are infectious for several weeks before signs appear. Some people are infectious for years.

If you have hepatitis B, the symptoms can include:

  • nausea (feeling sick)
  • tiredness
  • dark urine
  • pale bowel motions (poo)
  • joint and muscle pain
  • jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin).

Symptoms appear six weeks to six months after you catch hepatitis B (usually after two to three months).

There is no specific treatment for acute (sudden or severe) hepatitis B. Most people recover after several months, but a few develop chronic (long-term) hepatitis B infection and become a carrier (about 1 in 20 adults).

To help take care of yourself, you can:

  • rest
  • eat small meals more often, if you are feeling sick
  • avoid alcohol
  • talk to your doctor about what medicines you are taking to make sure they are not harmful to your liver
  • talk to your doctor about precautions you can take to ensure you do not spread the virus to others.

Hepatitis B is a notifiable disease. This means that health professionals or laboratories will inform us when someone has it. This allows us to give advice about how to stop it spreading, and check that other people who have been in close contact with the person with the illness haven’t also been infected.


There are specific requirements for notifiable diseases in the Auckland region.

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Last updated 22.11.2022

For health advice call Healthline for free anytime on 0800 611 116
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