Transmission of Hepatitis B
The hepatitis B virus is transmitted through blood and sexual fluids. This can most commonly occur in the following ways:
Direct contact with infected blood
From an infected pregnant person to their newborn during pregnancy and childbirth
Needles and other medical/dental equipments or procedures that are contaminated or not sterile
Use of illegal or “street” drugs
Body piercing, tattooing, acupuncture and even nail salons are other potential routes of infection unless sterile needles and equipment are used. In addition, sharing sharp instruments such as razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers, earrings and body jewelry can be a source of infection.
Hepatitis B is NOT transmitted casually. It cannot be spread through toilet seats, doorknobs, sneezing, coughing, hugging or eating meals with someone who is infected with hepatitis B.
The hepatitis B virus can infect infants, children, teens and adults. It is not a genetic disease – it is an infectious disease that is transmitted through blood. Although everyone may be at risk for a hepatitis B infection during their lifetime, there are groups of people who are at higher risk because of where they were born, their occupation or life choices.
The following is a guide for screening high-risk groups for hepatitis B, but the list certainly doesn't represent all potential risk factors.
- Health care providers and emergency responders
- Sexually active individuals (more than 1 partner in the past six months)
- Men who have sex with men
- Individuals diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease
- Illicit drug users (injecting, inhaling, snorting, pill popping)
- Sexual partners or those living in close household contact with an infected person
- Individuals born in countries where hepatitis B is common (Asia, Africa, South America, Pacific Islands, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East)
- Individuals born to parents who have emigrated from countries where hepatitis B is common (see #7)
- Children adopted from countries where hepatitis B is common (see #7)
- Adoptive families of children from countries where hepatitis B is common (see #7)
- Anyone diagnosed with cancer prior to initiation of anticancer treatment
- Kidney dialysis patients and those in early kidney (renal) failure
- Inmates and staff of a correctional facility
- Residents and staff of facilities for developmentally disabled persons
- ALL pregnant women
On July 27, 2020, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) published provisional guidelines recommending that all people diagnosed with cancer be tested for hepatitis B before starting anticancer treatment. According to the ASCO statement, up to 90% of people diagnosed with cancer have at least one risk factor for hepatitis B. Cancer treatments can suppress the immune system and cause the virus to reactivate, which can lead to serious liver damage or liver failure.