A screening test can determine if a person has an infection with hepatitis B. It involves a blood test that detects antigens and antibodies for hepatitis B virus (HBV).

Hepatitis B, or hep B, is a viral infection that can cause liver damage, leading to several health complications, such as liver failure. Sometimes, it may even be fatal. So, knowing whether a person has hepatitis B can be life-saving.

Hep B screening, also known as the hepatitis B triple panel test, involves three components.

This article reviews hepatitis B screening, explains its purpose, what it involves, who should have one, and how to understand its results.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that every adult over 18 years old has a hepatitis B screening test at least once. Doctors may recommend a screening test for those with symptoms of hepatitis B or atypical liver function test results.

The CDC also recommends that pregnant people should attend a screening test for hepatitis B, preferably in their first trimester. This is because there is a risk of transmitting the virus to the infant during pregnancy or delivery.

Infants born to pregnant people with hepatitis B may need a screening test when they are 9–12 months of age. Also, screening is necessary 1 or 2 months after receiving a hepatitis B vaccination.

Learn more about how hepatitis B spreads.

The primary purpose of hepatitis B screening is to detect acute or chronic infection and, if necessary, start the relevant treatment as soon as possible. Knowing a person’s hepatitis B status is important.

For some people, screening can reduce the risk of the following complications:

  • liver failure
  • transmitting hepatitis B to a fetus, sexual partner(s), other people who share needles, instruments, or sharp objects, and anyone who thinks they may have had exposure to body fluid containing HBV
  • death

People should speak with a doctor about getting tested for hepatitis B.

Learn about the mortality rates from hepatitis B.

The screening test involves taking one sample of blood from a vein. After taking the sample, the doctor will send it to the laboratory for testing.

Hep B screening, also known as the hepatitis B triple panel, has three parts. Combining the results of all three tests will determine whether a person has a hepatitis B infection.

The hepatitis B triple panel screening test includes:

Hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg)

A positive HBsAg test result suggests that a person has a hepatitis B infection. This part of the test detects whether the HBV is present in the blood. A positive HBsAg test result also means that the virus is transmissible to others through blood.

Hepatitis B surface antibody (HBsAb)

A positive HBsAb test result indicates a person has protection against hepatitis B. The protection against the virus may result from successfully recovering from a past hepatitis B infection or receiving the hepatitis B vaccine.

Also, a positive HBsAb test means a person may be immune to HBV. A person with a positive HBsAb test does not have a hepatitis B infection, so the virus is not transmissible to other people.

Hepatitis B core antibody (HBcAb)

A positive HBcAb test result suggests a current or past hepatitis B infection. Unlike the surface antibody, the core antibody does not provide protection or immunity to HBV.

Doctors need to know the results of the other two parts of the screening test before fully understanding the HBcAb test results.

Learn more about hepatitis B surface antibodies.

The following table provides an overview of how to interpret the results of a hepatitis B triple panel screening test.

HBsAgHBsAbHBcAbResultInterpretationAction required
not immune – not protectedthere is no hepatitis B infection, but there is a risk of a possible future infectionvaccination is necessary
++immune controlled – protectedthe antibodies are present after recovering from a prior natural hepatitis B infectionvaccination may not be necessary
+immune – protected a person has received the hepatitis B vaccine, and they are now protected even if they have never had a hepatitis B infectionvaccination may not be necessary
++infected or HBV-positiveHBV is present in the blood, and it is transmissible to other peoplefurther testing is necessary — contact a doctor
+possible infectionthe result is unclear, and it may indicate a current or a past hepatitis B infectionfurther testing is necessary — contact a doctor

Learn more about nonreactive hepatitis B test results.

If someone receives a positive hepatitis B result, their doctor can advise on the next steps. Most people will begin treatment with antiviral medication. Doctors may recommend that people with hepatitis B make some lifestyle changes, such as quitting alcohol. There is no cure for hepatitis B, and although antivirals can suppress the virus, it will remain in the liver.

Websites and organizations that can offer support to people with hepatitis B include:

  • The CDC: This organization provides many resources about hepatitis B and what to expect.
  • Hepatitis B Foundation: This organization supports people with hepatitis B worldwide, promoting awareness of this disease and helping people with this condition to cope with their challenges.
  • American Liver Foundation: This organization supports people with liver conditions, including hepatitis B.

Joining support groups within the local community can help build a network of connections where people can share their experiences and offer support or advice.

Is there a cure for hepatitis B? Learn more here.

Hep B screening tests can help determine if a person has hepatitis B and whether the virus is transmissible to other people. Screening for hepatitis B can have many benefits, such as detecting HBV and leading to prompt treatment where necessary.

A hepatitis B screening test only requires one blood sample. A doctor can only determine a person’s hepatitis B status by combining the results of three separate components of the screening test— HBsAg, HBsAb, and HBcAb.