Hepatitis B

Download Hepatitis B fact sheet (PDF)

What is Hepatitis B?

  • Hepatitis B (hep B) is a virus that affects the liver. Someone can live with hepatitis B for a long time (20-30 years) before they develop any symptoms, feel sick, or see any sign of liver damage. Without testing, treatment or follow-up from a provider, the liver can become scarred and cause people to become ill.
  • Hepatitis B can be very common in certain parts of the world, such as sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia, parts of Central and South America.

 What are the symptoms?

Most people have no signs or symptoms of hepatitis B.  People who have hep B may have some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue (feeling tired)
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
  • Dark urine, pale stools
  • Abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, poor appetite
How does someone get Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is passed through blood, semen (pre-ejaculate), vaginal fluids, rectal fluids and saliva from someone who has the virus.  The main ways that hep B is passed between people are:

  • Anal or vaginal sex, oral sex, sharing sex toys
  • Maternal transmission (during pregnancy or childbirth)
  • Sharing needles/syringes or other equipment used to inject drugs (such as cookers, filters, etc) or equipment to snort or smoke drugs such as stems, bills/straws, etc
  • Tattoos, body piercing/modifications, acupuncture, manicures or pedicures where non-sterile equipment is used
  • Sharing personal hygiene articles such as razors, toothbrushes or nail clippers
  • Medical/surgical procedures where infection prevention and control practices are inadequate

 Hepatitis B cannot be passed through:

 Shaking hands

  • Hugs or kisses
  • Coughs or sneezes
  • Food or water
  • Sharing eating utensils
  • Breastfeeding
How do I get tested for hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is diagnosed with a blood test.  This blood test can reveal if an individual currently has hepatitis B, has had hepatitis B in the past (resolved) or has previously received the vaccine.  Most tests are accurate within four weeks of exposure but some people may take as long as 3 to 6 months to test positive. You may be encouraged to return for repeat testing.

What happens if I have a positive hepatitis B result? Your body may clear the virus on its own without treatment within the first 6 months: the majority of adults are able to clear the virus and develop lifelong immunity.  However, the majority of infants and children who contract hepatitis B will develop chronic hepatitis B. 

  • There is no cure for hepatitis B but there are treatment options that can help prevent further damage to your liver.
  • To reduce the risk of passing the hepatitis B virus on to your baby, you doctor will ensure that your baby receives an immune globulin injection and hepatitis B vaccine at birth
  • Your healthcare provider or public health nurse will provide you with resources, counselling, support, and information to help guide your care, including linking you to community services and/or social workers.
  • Your healthcare provider or a public health nurse will help you notify household contacts, sexual and/or drug-equipment sharing partners to encourage them to be tested for hepatitis B, assess their immune status and/or provide vaccine protection to those who are not immune.  They can get free hepatitis B vaccination through Ottawa Public Health.
How do I keep my liver healthy?
  • Decrease or eliminate alcohol, drug and/or tobacco use
  • Get vaccinated for Hepatitis A
  • Talk to your healthcare provider/pharmacist before starting new medications or natural remedies 
How do I practice safer sex?
  • Use an internal or external condom, every time you have vaginal and/or anal sex

  • Use water-based or silicone-based lubricants

  • If you share sex toys, cover the toy with a condom and clean after each use

  • Get tested for Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) regularly
How do I practice safer drug use?
  • Use new equipment every time you inject, including needles, syringes and all other supplies (like cookers, filters and water)

  • Never share equipment with anyone, including your sex partner(s)

  • Access Needle and Syringe Programs or Supervised Consumption Services for new equipment and harm reduction services

 For more information:

  • Canadian Liver Foundation - www.liver.ca, or call 1-800-563-5483
  • Health Canada www.phac-aspc.gc.ca
  • Ontario Ministry of Health - www.hepcontario.ca
  • www.catie.ca (Canada’s source of HIV and hepatitis C information) or call their toll-free telephone line at 1-800-236-1638
  • Call the AIDS and Sexual Health Infoline at 1-800-668-2437 if you have questions or need help.
  • www.sexandu.ca


Sexual Health Clinic

179 Clarence St,

Ottawa. ON K1N5P7

613-234-4641 | TTY: 613-580-9656


The Site Harm Reduction Program 

Site Office (Needle & Syringe and Supervised Consumption Services)

179 Clarence St

Ottawa. ON K1N5P7

613-580-2424 ext. 29047

9am-9pm daily

Site Van- Mobile harm reduction services

5pm-11:30pm daily

613-232-3232 (collect calls accepted)


Visit Harm Reduction Services In Ottawa for more information on local resources


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