Is Hepatitis B Spread Through Sex?

Man tearing a condom packet
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Yes, you can be exposed to hepatitis B by having sex with someone infected with the hepatitis B virus. In fact, sexual contact is how most adults in the United States probably get infected.

The hepatitis B virus spreads by direct contact with infected blood. However, it's also spread by contact with semen, vaginal fluids, and other body fluids. This means that in addition to sharing things like needles and syringes, you can also get hepatitis B by having sex with an infected partner.

Why Is Hepatitis B Spread Through Sex But Hepatitis C Isn't?

Actually, you can get both hepatitis B and hepatitis C from sexual contact. However, it's very uncommon to get hepatitis C from having sex. There are several reasons for this difference, but one of the most significant is that the hepatitis B virus is much more infectious than the hepatitis C virus. It's even more infectious than HIV (about 50 to 100 times more infectious).

What Can I Do to Prevent Infection?

Hepatitis B is completely preventable. The best and safest way to protect most people is to get the full series of hepatitis B vaccines. This means you get 3 or 4 injections of hepatitis B vaccine over 6 months. If you get the full series, you should have about 15 years of protection.

However, you also need to reduce your risk in other ways, even if you are vaccinated for hepatitis B. This is because a full vaccination series will only protect you 90 to 95 percent of the time. So, in addition to getting the hepatitis B vaccine, you should:

  • Always wear a condom properly when having sex with an infected person.
  • Never share needles or syringes.
  • Never share personal items from someone infected with hepatitis B.
  • Always wear gloves when coming into direct contact with blood and other body fluids.
  • Protect your eyes and mucous membranes (the lining inside your mouth and nose) from contact with blood and other body fluids.

And if you know you have been exposed to the hepatitis B virus, you should see your doctor immediately. There is a preventive treatment that can reduce the risk of becoming infected if administered within 24 hours of exposure. 

What Are the Other Ways Hepatitis B Spreads?

You can become infected with hepatitis B whenever you come into direct contact with infected blood, semen, vaginal fluids and other body fluids. Some of the most common ways to spread hepatitis B are:

  • having sex with someone who has hepatitis B
  • during birth, if the mother has hepatitis B
  • sharing needles, syringes or works
  • sharing personal items that might have infected blood on them (razors, toothbrushes)

Symptoms of Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B can produce various signs and symptoms that range from mild to severe. These usually appear between one and four months after a person has become infected. Signs and symptoms of hepatitis B include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine
  • Fever
  • Joint pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
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Article Sources
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Hepatitis B.