What to Do If Your Partner Has Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B (HBV) is a virus that causes inflammation and damage to the liver. It is transmitted through exposure to infected body fluids or from mother to baby during birth. HBV usually spreads through blood, semen, or vaginal discharge. The best way to prevent hepatitis B is through the vaccine. 

Hepatitis B can be acute or chronic. "Acute" means a sudden onset that occurs within six months of exposure. Some people recover from an acute infection on their own or through treatment. When the infection stays after treatment, it becomes a chronic (lifelong) condition.

This article reviews how hepatitis B spreads, the risk of getting it from an infected husband or intimate partner, prevention, testing, symptoms, and when to see your healthcare provider. 

Couple talking to doctor about hepatitis B.

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Hepatitis B Statistics

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that HBV affects 1.2 million people in the United States. Over 60% of those infected do not know they have the virus. New HBV infections are highest among adults aged 30 to 59. 

How Does Hepatitis B Spread?


Hepatitis B is transmitted when bodily fluids from an infected person enter the body of a noninfected person. The most common body fluids that transmit HBV are:

  • Blood
  • Vaginal secretions (discharge)
  • Semen

It is most commonly spread by:

  • Sharing needles and syringes
  • Sexual contact with a person with HBV
  • Delivery of a newborn (from mother to baby at birth) 
  • Direct contact with open cuts or sores
  • Needle sticks

The Difference Between Spreading Hepatitis A and B

HBV is sometimes mistaken for hepatitis A. Hepatitis A is spread through contaminated food or water rather than body fluids. 

HBV can also spread by sharing toothbrushes or razors, or by chewing a baby's food for them. Transmission most often occurs when someone has bleeding gums, nicks themselves shaving, or has a sore in their mouth. It's also important to note that HBV can live on objects for seven days or more.

According to the CDC, the risk of transmitting HBV to a baby through breast milk is not a concern. This changes, however, if a mother has cracked or bleeding nipples. In this case, the mother should wait to resume breastfeeding until the nipples are no longer bleeding.

While transmission through kissing is not likely, this is controversial in the scientific and medical communities. This is because "deep kissing" with the exchange of a lot of saliva in someone with a cut or sore in their mouth could theoretically transmit HBV. 

Most Common Risk Factors of Hepatitis B

As of 2018 the most common risk factor for contracting HBV was from sharing drug injection equipment. The next most common risk factor was having multiple sexually intimate partners. 

What Is the Risk of Getting Hepatitis B From an Infected Partner?


HBV is about 50 to 100 times more contagious than the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Living with or having sex with someone who has HBV dramatically increases your risk. If your spouse, intimate partner, or someone who lives in your house tests positive for HBV, you should get tested as well. 

The risk significantly decreases with vaccination and is the best way to keep yourself healthy.

Preventing the Spread of Hepatitis B

The hepatitis B vaccine is the best way to protect yourself from HBV. It is safe and 98% to 100% effective. 

You can also prevent the spread of HBV by avoiding contact with bodily fluids by using the following measures:

  • Properly dispose of contaminated waste.
  • Avoid sharing toothbrushes or personal hygiene tools.
  • Don’t share needles, syringes, or other medical equipment involving blood (such as blood sugar testing).
  • Always use condoms during sexual intercourse.
  • Use dental dams during oral sex. 
  • Use needlestick prevention methods if you work in healthcare.

Who Should Get Tested for Hepatitis B?

Over half of those infected with HBV don’t have symptoms. The best way to know if you have HBV is to get a blood test. These tests can detect HBV years before symptoms develop. Having this information is important because early treatment can prevent liver damage. 

HBV testing is recommended for the following populations:

  • People who have household or sexual contact with those infected with HBV
  • People who inject drugs
  • Pregnant people
  • Babies born to HBV-infected moms
  • People with HIV or hepatitis C
  • Men who have sex with other men
  • People born in the United States and were not vaccinated as babies (especially those with parents born in areas with high rates of HBV infection)
  • Those who receive immunosuppressive therapy
  • People with end-stage renal (kidney) disease or who are on hemodialysis (a treatment to filter waste from the blood)
  • Blood and tissue donors
  • Those with elevated alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels
  • People born in countries with a greater than 2% rate of HBV

What to Do If Your Spouse or Intimate Partner Has Hepatitis B

If your spouse or intimate partner has hepatitis B, the following steps can help keep you from getting the infection:

  • Use barrier devices during sexual intercourse and oral sex. 
  • Get tested for HBV.
  • Contact your healthcare provider if you need the HBV vaccination or are unsure if you’ve had it.
  • Avoid sharing a toothbrush, razor, needles, syringes, or blood sugar testing equipment.

Who Should Get Vaccinated for Hepatitis B?


The following populations should receive the three-dose HBV vaccination: 

  • Infants (the HBV vaccination series typically starts within 24 hours of birth)
  • Unvaccinated children (under 19)
  • Adults 19 to 59 years
  • Adults over 60 with increased risk factors for HBV

While the vaccine is not necessarily recommended for adults over age 60 if they don't have an increased risk of HBV, they can still receive it if desired.

If you are unvaccinated and think you may have been exposed to HBV, contact the health department or your healthcare provider as soon as possible. 

Symptoms of Hepatitis B

Many people with HBV do not have symptoms. This is especially true for children under five and people with serious health concerns who are immunocompromised. Symptoms of HBV include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Clay-colored stools ("poop")
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Jaundice (yellow skin or eyes)
  • Joint pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Enlarged liver 

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Seeking immediate medical attention within 24 hours of exposure to HBV allows you to receive early treatment, reducing your infection risk. See your healthcare provider if you:

  • Are exposed to HBV (especially if you are not sure if you have had the vaccination)
  • Have a partner with HBV
  • Are at high risk and need testing
  • Need a vaccination
  • Are concerned about your risk of HBV
  • Have symptoms of HBV

The Importance of Seeking Medical Attention Quickly

If you’ve been exposed to HBV, seek medical attention as soon as possible. Getting medical attention quickly allows you to get tested and receive treatment early, reducing your infection risk. 

Summary 

Hepatitis B (HBV) is a virus that causes inflammation and damage to the liver. It can be transmitted through bodily fluids or from mother to baby. HBV usually spreads through needlesticks or sexual activity. 

Those who have sexual contact with someone infected with HBV should get tested immediately. The best way to prevent hepatitis B is through the vaccine.  

To prevent hepatitis B, use barrier devices such as condoms or dental dams during sexual intercourse and oral sex. Avoid sharing razors, toothbrushes, needles, syringes, or medical equipment involving blood exposure (like blood glucose monitoring equipment). 

A Word From Verywell

There sometimes is stigma and fear associated with hepatitis B. However, understanding the risk and prevention strategies is key to avoiding infection between partners. If your intimate partner or spouse has HBV, talk with your healthcare provider or the health department. Early testing and vaccination can help keep you healthy while building your life together.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long is a person with hepatitis B contagious to others?


    If someone has acute (sudden and short-lived) HBV, they are no longer contagious after recovery. Those with chronic (long-lasting) HBV can be contagious indefinitely. Chronic HBV usually occurs when the person becomes infected as an infant or child. 

  • Can you kiss someone with hepatitis B?


    Yes. However, while transmission through kissing is unlikely, it is possible. This is especially true when deep kissing someone with mouth cuts or sores. HBV vaccination significantly decreases this risk.

  • Can I have a baby if my partner has hepatitis B?


    Yes, you can have a baby with your partner if they have hepatitis B. The safest way to do that is to ensure you have the three-dose HBV vaccination series before having unprotected sexual intercourse. Ensure your healthcare providers know that your partner has hepatitis B and that your baby gets their HBV vaccination as soon as possible. Babies typically receive their HBV vaccination within the first 24 hours of their lives. 

12 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. United States (U.S.) Department of Health & Human Services. Hepatitis b basic information.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The abc's of viral hepatitis.

  4. Trépo C, Chan H, Lok A. Hepatitis b virus infection. Lancet. 2014;384(9959):2053-63. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(14)60220-8

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hepatitis b.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Viral hepatitis: hepatitis b questions and answers for the public.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Breastfeeding: hepatitis b or c infections.

  8. Limeres Posse J, Diz Dios P, Scully, C. Viral diseases transmissible by kissing. Saliva Protection and Transmissible Diseases. Academic Press. 2017:53–92. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-813681-2.00004-4

  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hepatitis b & sexual health.

  10. New Jersey Department of Health. My partner was diagnosed with hepatitis b, what does this mean?

  11. World Health Organization. Hepatitis b.

  12. Hepatitis B Foundation.  I am diagnosed with chronic hepatitis b, can I get married and have children?

Additional Reading

By Brandi Jones, MSN-ED RN-BC
Brandi is a nurse and the owner of Brandi Jones LLC. She specializes in health and wellness writing including blogs, articles, and education.