Get tested for hepatitis B

Hepatitis B can be treated if it's found early. Talk to your doctor and get tested today.

Dr Garang Dut was born in South Sudan against a back drop of war.

He spent half of his life living in refugee camps. He has seen how untreated diseases like hepatitis B can silently develop into liver damage and/or liver cancer.

Today he is a doctor living in Australia, where vaccination and treatment for hepatitis B is available.

Dr Dut urges you talk to your doctor about hepatitis B. Get tested today.

About hepatitis B

Hepatitis B, or ‘hep B', is a virus. It affects the liver. It can cause:

  • inflammation (swelling)
  • scarring (also known as cirrhosis); and/or
  • liver cancer.

Hepatitis B is widespread in South Sudan and other parts of Africa.

Hepatitis B and liver cancer

If left untreated, hepatitis B can cause liver damage and/or liver cancer. Liver cancer is a growth in the liver. Often people with hepatitis B do not have any symptoms, yet serious liver damage can still occur.

You need to get tested

People who were born in South Sudan and their families should be tested for hepatitis B. It doesn't matter how long you have lived in Australia, it is important to ask your doctor for a hepatitis B test.

A hepatitis B test is not usually included in the health checks you need to migrate to Australia, or in a doctor's yearly check-up. This is why it is important that you ask your doctor.

How to get tested

Ask your doctor if you're not sure if you've been tested or vaccinated in the past.

A simple blood test can tell you if you:

  • have chronic hepatitis B (chronic means lifelong)
  • need a vaccine to protect you
  • have had a vaccine in the past and are protected.

Vaccination for hepatitis B

If you don't have hepatitis B, you can be protected by receiving a vaccination.

In Australia babies are usually vaccinated within eight days of birth. This is followed up with three more doses within their next year of life. The vaccine for adolescents and adults is usually given as three injections.

Family and people in close contact with someone who has hepatitis B can be vaccinated for free. But vaccination won't protect you if you already have chronic hepatitis B. This is why testing before vaccination is essential.

Treating chronic hepatitis B

People with chronic hepatitis B can lead healthy lives. Regular tests every six months and treatment when needed will help to prevent liver cancer.

The treatment keeps the virus under control, but it is not a cure. Not everyone with chronic hepatitis B will need treatment. Some people will only need monitoring. A doctor will help you decide what type of treatment or monitoring is required.

Transmitting hepatitis B

The easiest way to prevent the spread of hepatitis B is through vaccination.

The hepatitis B virus is carried in body fluids and blood. The virus spreads when these fluids get into the body of another person who is not vaccinated.

It cannot be spread by:

  • sharing food, drinks and cutlery
  • hugging and kissing
  • shaking hands.

It can be spread:

  • silently from mother to child during pregnancy or childbirth (if the baby does not get a vaccine at birth)
  • through unprotected sex
  • by sharing injecting drug equipment
  • by unsterile medical procedures
  • by infected blood going into the bloodstream in some other way, such as unsterile tattooing.

More information 

View the Hepatitis B and liver cancer fact sheet in English or Arabic

Read the Hepatitis B Story in English (PDF) or Arabic (PDF)

For information in Arabic or Dinka call 13 14 50. When you call, say your language and ask for Cancer Council Victoria.

Updated: 27 Apr, 2017