About Global Hepatitis B

Updated July 26, 2022

Woman holds a baby being vaccinated at a health clinic in Burma (Myanmar), 2016.

Hepatitis B Can Be Prevented

Hepatitis B is a vaccine-preventable disease. The hepatitis B vaccine has been available since the 1980s and is safe and highly effective at preventing infection. At least 3 doses of hepatitis B vaccine are needed to prevent infection with the hepatitis B virus (HBV). The first dose should be given to babies within 24 hours of birth, followed by 2 to 3 additional doses for full protection.

Hepatitis B is Caused by the Hepatitis B Virus

The virus spreads when blood, semen, or other body fluid from a person infected with the hepatitis B virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. The major routes of transmission are:

  • Mother to infant (perinatal or vertical transmission)
  • Direct contact with blood or open sores of a person infected with the hepatitis B virus
  • Sexual contact
  • Percutaneous exposure (through contaminated blood, sharing needles or syringes, and drug-injection equipment) to contaminated blood or other infectious body fluids

Chronic Hepatitis B Causes Serious Liver Disease

Hepatitis B is the leading cause of liver cancer globally. Chronic hepatitis B infection can cause serious health problems, including:

  • Liver damage
  • Cirrhosis (scarring of the liver)
  • Liver failure
  • Liver cancer
  • Death

Anyone Who is Not Vaccinated Can Get Hepatitis B

Although anyone can contract hepatitis B, infants born to infected mothers are at greater risk. Mother-to-child transmission of HBV is the primary source of chronic infections. Nearly all newborns who become infected at birth will develop chronic hepatitis B.

Hepatitis B is a Leading Cause of Death, Disease, and Economic Burden Globally

Globally, chronic hepatitis B affects approximately 296 million people and contributes to an estimated 820,000 deaths every year. In 2019, over 6 million children under 5 years old were living with hepatitis B. This is because not all countries have a hepatitis B birth dose vaccination program, and some have low vaccination rates for all 3 required doses.

Hepatitis B causes significant economic burden on patients and their families both from direct healthcare costs and indirect costs (such as loss of income due to illness). The complications of chronic hepatitis B occur later in adult years when the individual is making the most economic contribution, so the indirect costs of income earning affects the economy of their entire community.

Page last reviewed: March 22, 2022
Content source: Global Immunization