Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B cells

Introduction

Hepatitis B is an infectious disease caused by the hepatitis B virus which is transmissible by blood and sexual contact, as well as from mother to child at birth (unlike hepatitis C, which is strongly associated with risky injecting behaviour). The virus affects the liver by attaching to healthy liver cells and replicating. If not diagnosed and managed appropriately, hepatitis B infection can lead to cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver cancer or liver failure.

During 2016, there was 6,555 new hepatitis B diagnoses in Australia, elevating the total number of people living with chronic hepatitis B to an estimated 233,034. An estimated 63% of these people living with hepatitis B were diagnosed. Australia’s Second National Hepatitis B Strategy (2014–2017) has a target of 15% of people living with chronic hepatitis B on treatment, but only 7% of people living with chronic hepatitis B were estimated to be receiving antiviral therapy in 2016.

The hepatitis B notification rate has declined in younger age groups (16% decline in people aged 15–19 years, 31% decline in those aged 20–24 years and 25% decline in those aged 25–29 years), in contrast to older age groups (a 5% increase in people aged 30–39, and a 9% increase in people aged 40 and over).  

You can explore the hepatitis B data from Australia in the interactive graphs below.

Scroll down to read the interpretation of the data and to download the full version of the report.

What's new in 2016?

What does this mean?

The decline in the rates of newly diagnosed hepatitis B in people under the age of 30 is attributable to the introduction of universal vaccination of infants in 2000 (1990 in the Northern Territory), and adolescent catch-up programs from 1998.

Maternal screening and vaccination of infants born to women with hepatitis B are also likely to have contributed to this decline. However, one-fifth of people attending sexual health clinics remain susceptible to hepatitis B acquisition, highlighting the need for increased vaccination coverage in people at risk of hepatitis B.

Overall, over two-thirds of people living with chronic hepatitis B in Australia were diagnosed in 2016. Of those, an estimated 17% were receiving care and 7% were receiving treatment. While diagnoses of hepatitis B in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has decreased by half, rates remain higher that in the non-Indigenous population. These data suggest an ongoing gap in both the uptake of testing to diagnose chronic hepatitis B, and the uptake of treatment, as well as monitoring to prevent morbidity and mortality. There is a need to strengthen strategies to bridge these gaps.

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