Par Eric Charette | 08 June 2021

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a viral STBBI transmitted mainly through unprotected sex and injection drug use. Symptoms such as fatigue, loss of appetite, abdominal pain and jaundice are indicative of this liver infection. It can take up to 12 weeks to be detected after exposure. Fortunately, this infection can be prevented by vaccination.

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Hepatitis B is an infection caused by a virus that is transmitted via bodily fluids, including blood. Transmission takes place mainly during unprotected sex or through sharing injection materials among those who consume drugs. Hepatitis B can also be transmitted from a mother to her fetus during pregnancy.

Who is at risk of infection?

In Québec, the majority of new infections are linked to unprotected sex and the use of injectable drugs. Certain other populations are also at higher risk, notably immigrants and Indigenous people. There is also an increased risk of transmission during non-sterile medical procedures (transfusions, tattooing), especially in the context of travel.

The following suggest a higher risk of infection:

  • having sex without a condom
  • having sex with multiple partners
  • sharing injection materials
  • being tattooed or pierced with non-sterile material
  • working as a healthcare professional

People infected with HIV have a higher risk of contracting hepatitis B because these infections have similar risk factors.

Symptoms and complications

People infected with hepatitis B do not always show symptoms. If they are observed, symptoms can appear months after the initial infection. Hepatitis can appear as:

  • intense fatigue
  • loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting
  • abdominal pain and diarrhea
  • pale stools and dark urine
  • fever
  • jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)

In most cases, hepatitis B infection resolves itself spontaneously within six months. Following the infection, the production of antibodies protects against hepatitis B. In certain cases, the infection does not resolve itself and becomes chronic, with a risk of being transmitted. Chronic hepatitis B increases the risk of serious liver disease, notably cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Screening and treatment

How to test: Testing is performed using a blood sample.

When to test: The minimum delay before detection is one week. The window period for detection ends 12 weeks after exposure.

Antiviral treatments exist to stop the replication of the virus and slow the progression of chronic hepatitis B.


There is a vaccine that can protect you against hepatitis B. For more information, see “Vaccination against hepatitis A and B”). Another way to protect yourself is by using condoms every time you have sex. In the case of consuming intravenous drugs, it is recommended to use sterile materials and never share. Since it is possible to be infected and not have any symptoms, routine screening may be recommended depending on your risk factors and vaccination status.

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