What Does It Mean to be a Hepatitis B Carrier?

Hepatitis B is a virus that infects the liver. It can be acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term) and may result in liver damage, failure, and even cancer. You may be unable to tell if you have a hepatitis B infection because many people have no symptoms. People with chronic hepatitis B infections who are asymptomatic, sometimes called carriers, can transmit the virus without knowing.

Keep reading for more on asymptomatic hepatitis B infections, how common they are, how the virus is transmitted, common symptoms, possible treatments, and prevention strategies.

Older man speaking to his healthcare provider about hepatitis B.

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What Is a Hepatitis B Carrier?

People who are called carriers of hepatitis B have a chronic (long-term) infection but don't feel ill and don't have any symptoms. Though a person who is a hepatitis B carrier has no symptoms, they can transmit the virus to other people.

How Common Are Hepatitis B Carriers?

Of all people with a hepatitis B infection, about 6% and up to 10% are considered carriers. Children may be more likely to be carriers. Around 90% of babies who become infected with the virus during birth are carriers. Further, about half of the children who become infected under the age of 5 become hepatitis B carriers.

 How Is Hepatitis B Transmitted?

Hepatitis B is transmitted from one person to another due to contact with infected body fluids, primarily blood, and semen. Transmission can occur during the following:

  • Birth (from a birthing person to their baby)
  • Sex with a person who is infected
  • Use of shared needles
  • Use of other personal items (such as razors and toothbrushes)
  • Contact with open sores on a person who is infected

Symptoms of Hepatitis B Infection

Not everyone who has hepatitis B will have symptoms. About half of children older than 5 years old up to adults with the virus experience symptoms, which can include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Jaundice
  • Pain in the abdomen or joints
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Light-colored bowel movements

Preventing the Spread of Hepatitis B

One of the most important tools of prevention for hepatitis B is vaccination. The hepatitis B vaccines are recommended for infants through adults ages 60 and older who are not already infected.

Avoiding contact with bodily fluids that could transmit the virus is also a key strategy for prevention. This includes using barrier methods during sex, not sharing personal items, and not sharing used needles.

Hepatitis B Diagnosis

Over half of the people living with a hepatitis B infection don't know they are infected. A healthcare provider can give you a blood test to tell whether you have hepatitis B. Many people with hepatitis B find out they have the infection when they donate blood.

People Who Should Be Tested for Hepatitis B

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that certain groups of people may be at a higher risk for a hepatitis B infection, such as:

  • People born in countries that have a prevalence rate of the virus that's greater than 2%
  • People who were unvaccinated as babies and had parents that came from countries with a higher prevalence of hepatitis B
  • Men who have sex with men
  • People who use injectable drugs
  • People living with HIV, diabetes, or end-stage kidney failure
  • People who live with or have had sex with someone who has hepatitis B
  • People who are on immunosuppressive therapy
  • Babies born to someone who has hepatitis B


Treatment will depend on whether the infection you have is acute or chronic. A healthcare provider may not treat acute hepatitis infections other than by managing symptoms. Often, your healthcare provider will recommend that you get enough sleep, fluids, and nutritious foods in your meals to help you feel better. It's also possible that an acute infection will go on its own.

If your body doesn't clear the infection, it can result in chronic infection. A healthcare provider may prescribe an antiviral medication to treat chronic infection, but not everyone with a chronic infection needs to be treated. There is not yet a cure for hepatitis B, but the treatment helps to suppress the virus in the body and reduces the risk of liver damage and liver cancer.


Hepatitis B can cause acute or chronic infections that may result in liver damage, scarring, or cancer. In the course of a chronic infection, some people may not have any symptoms or feel sick. They are referred to as carriers and they can infect other people. Between 6% and 10% of people who have a hepatitis B infection are considered carriers.

The hepatitis B virus is transmitted through contact with bodily fluids, primarily the blood and semen of someone infected. A healthcare provider can diagnose a hepatitis B infection through a blood test. Acute infections may not be treated, but antiviral medications may be prescribed to people with chronic infections. Vaccination is a top prevention strategy, along with avoiding contact with bodily fluids that may transmit the virus.

A Word From Verywell

Like many other infections, hepatitis B is a virus that many people have but don't know it. Getting vaccinated against the virus is one of the best strategies for prevention. Further, understanding the factors that increase your risk for infection can help you discuss when and if you should be tested for hepatitis B. Knowing your (positive or negative) status will help you make decisions about how to prevent infection in others and get timely treatment to reduce the risk of liver damage.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do hepatitis B carriers need treatment?

    Yes. Because hepatitis B carriers have chronic infection, they are at a higher risk for significant liver damage and even cancer. Antiviral medications can help manage the infection and reduce the risk of liver damage.

  • How long can a hepatitis B carrier live?

    Some hepatitis B carriers may experience liver conditions that lead to premature death. Chronic hepatitis B infections are associated with liver damage, cancer, and failure. Of children who develop a chronic infection, about 15% will die prematurely due to cirrhosis (liver scarring) or liver cancer.

  • Can a hepatitis B carrier get vaccinated?

    A healthcare provider may ask about hepatitis B risk factors and do testing before recommending the hepatitis B vaccine. If the results indicate a previous infection, a current infection, or immunity, the vaccine may not be given. The vaccine won't harm a person who is already infected, but treatment is recommended rather than being vaccinated in that case.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Gul N, Bilal R, Algehyne EA, et al. The dynamics of fractional order Hepatitis B virus model with asymptomatic carriersAlexandria Engineering Journal. 2021;60(4):3945-3955. doi:10.1016/j.aej.2021.02.057

  3. Cleveland Clinic. Hepatitis B.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hepatitis B questions and answers for the public.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hepatitis B questions and answers for health professionals.

  6. Schillie S. Prevention of hepatitis b virus infection in the united states: recommendations of the advisory committee on immunization practicesMMWR Recomm Rep. 2018;67.

  7. Planned Parenthood. How do I get treated for hepatitis B?

  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pinkbook: hepatitis B.

  9. Immunize.org. Hepatitis B facts: testing and vaccination.

By Katie Wilkinson, MPH, MCHES
Katie Wilkinson is a public health professional with more than 10 years of experience supporting the health and well-being of people in the university setting. Her health literacy efforts have spanned many mediums in her professional career: from brochures and handouts to blogs, social media, and web content.