Hepatitis B virus is transmitted through blood or body fluids, in a similar way to HIV/AIDS, however, some people are highly infectious and others are not. The degree of infectiousness can be determined by a special blood test.

Hepatitis B can be transmitted through all kinds of sexual contact and close contact, such as living together as a family. Sharing a toothbrush or razor may transmit hepatitis B. Intravenous drug users who share needles are a high-risk group for contracting the virus.

Surgeons, dentists, nurses, and emergency personnel who are exposed to blood and body fluids at work are at especially high risk of catching hepatitis B. In turn, patients of these health professionals may be exposed to the virus.

People who have intimate relationships, or even non-intimate but close-living relationships with people from high-risk areas also need to consider the risk of hepatitis B. This includes, for example, meeting a new sexual partner or even employing a nanny from a part of the world where hepatitis B is common. Hepatitis B is not transmitted through casual contact with another person, and should be of no concern to people having business or other non-intimate relationships with them.

Unlike HIV/AIDS, anyone who is at risk of getting hepatitis B can receive a vaccine that is very effective at prevention. If you expect to be exposed to the virus, try to get the vaccine about 4 months ahead of time in order to gain the best effect. Once the vaccine has "taken hold," you need not fear catching hepatitis B at all.

Stephen Sacks, MD 
in association with the MediResource Clinical Team