Hepatitis B

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 viral multiplication. Hepatitis B infection can lead to cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver cancer or liver failure if it is not diagnosed and managed. Some 20 to 30 percent of people with chronic hep B will develop advanced liver disease if the virus is left untreated. Advanced liver disease can lead to complications including liver failure and liver cancer, and can lead to death. Treatment for hep B aims to avoid these outcomes.

The disease course of hepatitis B is very complex. The main predictor of disease course is age of infection:

  • infants infected with hepatitis B rarely experience symptoms of acute infection, but 90% will develop chronic or lifelong infection
  • children infected with hepatitis B rarely experience symptoms of acute infection, but 30% will develop chronic or lifelong infection
  • adults or adolescents infected with hepatitis B commonly experience symptoms of acute infection, however less than 5% develop chronic or lifelong infection.

There is a significant social stigma associated with hepatitis B, which is a barrier to people seeking testing, treatment, and care. Even within culturally and linguistically diverse communities with an elevated prevalence, levels of hepatitis B knowledge are generally poor.

Dore, G., Wallace, J., Locarnin, S., Desmond, P., Gane, E. & Crawford, D. (2006). Hepatitis B in Australia—Responding to a diverse epidemic