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.