How Do You Get Hepatitis B?

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Hepatitis B is a contagious viral liver disease. An estimated 1.2 million Americans have hepatitis B, and many of them aren't aware that they're infected. The virus is spread through contact with infected bodily fluids, especially blood, semen, and vaginal fluids.

Continue reading to learn more about hepatitis B transmission and symptoms, and who is at risk for the infection. 

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Hepatitis B Transmission

Hepatitis B is contracted after a person comes into contact with bodily fluids from someone who already has the infection. While it’s theoretically possible for any bodily fluids to transmit hepatitis B, it's most commonly spread via blood. You’re unlikely to get hepatitis B from tears, sweat, urine, or stool. There is a moderate risk for contracting hepatitis B from saliva, vaginal fluids during sex, menstrual blood, and semen.

The virus can also be passed from the birthing parent to the baby during vaginal childbirth. However, this is more common in countries outside the United States, where hepatitis B is more widespread, including Asia and Africa.

How You Can Get Hepatitis B

You can contract hepatitis B by:

  • Sharing needles while doing drugs, or being tattooed by a needle that isn't clean
  • Having unprotected sex
  • At birth, if the mother has hepatitis B
  • Sharing items like razors, nail clippers, or toothbrushes with someone who has hepatitis B

You can't contract hepatitis B from casual contact, including:

  • Hugging someone with the virus
  • Using the same toilet as someone with the virus
  • Being in the same space as someone with the virus

What Is the Risk?

Because universal vaccination of newborns has been recommended since 1991, rates of Hepatitis B in the United States have been going down. But certain groups are still at higher risk, including:

  • Infants born to mothers with hepatitis B
  • People born outside the United States, or those who travel to areas like Asia or sub-Saharan Africa, where hepatitis B is more common
  • Sexual partners of people with hepatitis B
  • Men who have sex with men (MSM)
  • People who inject drugs and share needles or syringes
  • People who live with someone who has hepatitis B
  • Dialysis patients
  • People with diabetes, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), or Hepatitis C
  • Healthcare workers

Hepatitis B Symptoms 

Oftentimes, people with hepatitis B don’t have symptoms. This is especially true for infants and kids under age 5. However, if you do experience symptoms, they may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Dark urine
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Gray or discolored stool
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
  • Joint pain
  • Abdominal pain, nausea, or vomiting

Get Screened

Since many people with hepatitis B have no symptoms, you should get tested if you believe you may have been exposed to the virus.

How to Get Tested

Oftentimes, people with hepatitis B don’t have symptoms. That's why it's important to get tested if you had unprotected sex or shared a needle with someone who may have been infected. Hepatitis B is detected by a blood test and is usually included in routine sexually transmitted infection (STI) screenings.

Preventing the Spread

The most important way to prevent the spread of Hepatitis B is by getting the Hepatitis B vaccination. Anyone can receive the Hepatitis B vaccination, so it’s never too late to protect yourself. The vaccine is extremely effective: It prevents 95-100% of Hepatitis B infections.

If you are in a high-risk group, you should take additional precautions, including:

  • If you use injectable drugs, don’t share syringes.
  • If you live with someone with hepatitis B, don’t share razors, nail clippers, or toothbrushes.
  • If you are pregnant, talk to your healthcare provider about preventing the spread to your infant. 

Summary

Hepatitis B is a virus that can lead to liver disease. You can get hepatitis B if you come into contact with the bodily fluids from someone who is already infected—especially their blood. If you are living with or having sex with someone with hepatitis B, take precautions like using condoms and dental dams and not sharing razors, nail clippers, or toothbrushes. Anyone can receive the hepatitis B vaccination, which prevents 95%–100% of infections.

A Word From Verywell 

One of the best ways to protect yourself from hepatitis B is to get vaccinated. If you aren't sure if you've already been vaccinated, ask your healthcare provider, who can let you know the benefits of the vaccine, even if you've gotten it before.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How is hepatitis B most commonly transmitted?

    Hepatitis B is most often spread through contact with blood, which can happen during sex or when drug users share needles. Hepatitis B can also be passed to infants during childbirth. 

  • How long can you have hepatitis B without knowing it?

    Some people never experience symptoms of hepatitis B. That's why it's important to get tested if you think you may have been exposed to the virus.

  • Can you get hepatitis B from a toilet seat?

    No, you can’t contract hepatitis B from a toilet seat. You also can’t catch it from touching doorknobs, hugging, or other types of casual contact.

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.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hepatitis B: Are you at risk?

  2. Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. Hepatitis B

  3. World Health Organization. Hepatitis B.

  4. Hepatitis B Foundation. Transmission of hepatitis B

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prevalence and trends in hepatitis B virus infection in the United States, 2015–2018.

  6. MedlinePlus. Hepatitis B.

  7. Planned Parenthood. Should I get tested for hep b?

  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hepatitis B vaccination.

  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hepatitis B Questions and Answers for Health Professionals.

By Kelly Burch
Kelly Burch is has written about health topics for more than a decade. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and more.