Hepatitis B Transmission

transmissionHepatitis B (HBV) is transmitted via bodily fluids. Individuals become infected once an infected person’s bodily fluids, including, blood, semen, vaginal secretions or saliva enter their body. Sharing toothbrushes or nail clippers, for instance, can increase the chance of acquiring the infection. HBV is not spread through casual contact, such as hugging or shaking hands. Also, the virus is not spread through sweat or tears. Individuals who are 18 years and younger, and adults who have an increased risk of developing HBV should be vaccinated.

Sexual transmission

Individuals who engage in unprotected sex, including vaginal anal or oral sex, with an infected partner may acquire hepatitis B. The infection may also be transmitted if sexual devices are shared and not sterilized or covered with a condom.

Needle sharing

HBV can be transmitted through needles and syringes that are contaminated with infected blood. Therefore, individuals who share intravenous (IV) drug paraphernalia have an increased risk of developing the infection.

Accidental needle sticks

Healthcare workers and anyone who comes into contact with human blood is at risk of acquiring HBV.


Pregnant women who are infected with HBV can pass the virus to their babies. When the virus is transmitted from mother to fetus, it is called vertical transmission. Therefore, it is recommended that newborn babies of HBV positive mothers receive hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG), as well as the hepatitis vaccine, which includes a series of three injections. The vaccine will greatly reduce the baby’s risk of acquiring the virus.

Risk Factors

  • Individuals who have unprotected sex with more than one partner.
  • Individuals who have unprotected sex with someone who is infected with HBV.
  • Individuals who have a sexually transmitted disease, such as gonorrhea or chlamydia.
  • Individuals who share needles during intravenous (IV) drug use.
  • Individuals who share a household with someone who has a chronic HBV infection. Close contact with an infected individual increases the likelihood of acquiring the viral infection.
  • Individuals who have a job that exposes them to human blood.
  • Individuals who have received a blood transfusion or blood products before 1970. It was not until after 1970 that the blood supply was routinely tested for HBV. Today, the risk of contracting HBV from donated blood is low.
  • Individuals who receive hemodialysis for end-stage renal disease.
  • Individuals who travel to regions of the world that have high infection rates of HBV, such as sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, the Amazon Basin, the Pacific Islands and the Middle East.
  • Adolescents or young adults residing in a U.S. correctional facility.
  • Newborns whose mothers are infected with HBV.
  • Anyone can potentially become infected with HBV, even if they have no known risk factors for the disease.

Selected References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Viral Hepatitis B. www.cdc.gov. Accessed March 29, 2009.

Hepatitis Foundation International. Caring for Your Liver. www.hepfi.org. Accessed March 29, 2009.

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). Viral Hepatitis: A Through E and Beyond. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov. Accessed March 29, 2009.

Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine. www.naturalstandard.com. Copyright © 2009. Accessed March 29, 2009.

World Health Organization (WHO). Hepatitis B. www.who.int. Accessed March 29, 2009.

The Hepatitis Information Network. www.hepnet.com. Accessed March 29, 2009.