Hepatitis B is a liver infection that occurs due to the hepatitis B virus. A person can acquire the virus through blood, semen, and vaginal fluids. As such, it is possible for a person to get the viral infection through sexual contact.

Hepatitis is a term that describes liver inflammation. Typically, hepatitis may occur due to viral infections, such as the hepatitis B virus (HBV). In addition to HBV, there are also other types of viral hepatitis, such as hepatitis A (HAV) and hepatitis C (HCV).

Evidence notes that it is possible to sexually transmit hepatitis B and other forms of viral hepatitis. As such, health experts may consider hepatitis B a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

Among the different forms of hepatitis, the Hepatitis B Foundation notes that hepatitis B is the most common cause of chronic liver infections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports the following statistics on hepatitis B:

  • affects about 296 million people, including 6 million children under the age of 5
  • contributes to roughly 820,000 deaths per year
  • progresses to liver cancer in 25% of cases

In this article, we explore how a person can acquire hepatitis B sexually.

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Yes, a person can get hepatitis B by engaging in sexual activity with an individual with an HBV infection. This can include engaging in oral, anal, and vaginal sex. This usually occurs when blood, semen, saliva, or other body fluids from a person with an HBV infection enters the body of someone without the infection.

In the body, HBV travels to the liver where it multiplies, integrates, and can continue producing new viral HBV particles. From here, the virus is able to pass into the bloodstream and other bodily fluids.

A 2021 systematic review notes that sexual contact is the most common way of transmitting hepatitis B in the United States. The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that unvaccinated people with multiple sexual partners are more likely to acquire hepatitis B than others.

Other ways of acquiring hepatitis B can include sharing needles, syringes, or other drug-injection equipment with a person with HBV or a mother with HBV passing it to the baby at birth.

The CDC notes that in addition to hepatitis B, a person can also acquire hep A and hep C through sexual contact.

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious, short-term liver infection that HAV causes. According to health experts, the transmission of the hepatitis A virus can occur from any form of sexual activity with a person with an HAV infection. However, people mostly acquire hepatitis A through fecal-oral contact.

Individuals who may be at a higher risk for hepatitis A can include:

  • men who have sex with men (MSM)
  • international travelers
  • those who use or inject drugs
  • people with an occupational risk for exposure
  • those experiencing homelessness

Similar to other forms of hepatitis infections, hepatitis C occurs due to an infection with the corresponding HCV. Although not common, a person can transmit HCV through sexual activity.

A person typically develops hepatitis C after encountering blood that contains HCV. In addition to sexual contact, this can occur through:

  • birth
  • sharing drug-injection equipment
  • healthcare exposure
  • unregulated tattoos or piercings
  • sharing personal items

Prior to 1992, HCV was commonly transmitted through blood transfusions and organ transplants. With increased and improved safety and screening guidelines, the transmission risk via these medical procedures is very minimal, according to the CDC.

Hepatitis B can be asymptomatic. This means that some people with a recent infection may not have any symptoms. However, symptoms a person may experience can include:

  • fatigue
  • stomach pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • jaundice
  • hives
  • joint pain
  • dark urine
  • fever or high temperature

To diagnose hepatitis B, a doctor may order the following tests:

Hepatitis B surface antigen test

A hepatitis B surface antigen test can detect if a person has an active infection. A positive test result means that a person has hepatitis B and can transmit the virus to others. A negative test result means that a person may not have hepatitis B, but further testing is necessary.

Hepatitis B core antibody test

The hepatitis B core antigen test can detect a past or current hepatitis B infection. A positive result usually means a person has acute or chronic hepatitis B. It may also mean a person is recovering from acute hepatitis B.

Hepatitis B surface antibody test

A hepatitis B surface antibody test can check a person’s immunity to hepatitis B. A positive test may mean that a person is immune to hepatitis B. It may also mean that a person recently recovered from the condition.

Click here to learn more about these tests and their results.

The CDC and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommend hepatitis B vaccination as a safe and effective risk prevention strategy for:

  • sexually active people with more than one sex partner during the previous 6 months
  • people seeking evaluation or treatment for an STI
  • sex partners of people with hepatitis B
  • men who have sex with men (MSM)

A person can acquire hepatitis B through sexual contact. The liver infection occurs due to the hepatitis B virus, and people can develop the infection after encountering bodily fluids, such as blood, semen, and vaginal fluids, that contain the virus.

As a person can acquire HBV by encountering bodily fluids that contain the virus, it is also possible to acquire HBV through sharing sharp objects, receiving a piercing or tattoo with unsterilized equipment, or from a birthing parent.