Hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection is a serious global health problem, with 2 billion people infected worldwide, and 350 million suffering from chronic HBV infection. The 10th leading cause of death worldwide, HBV infections result in 500 000 to 1.2 million deaths per year caused by chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis, and hepatocellular carcinoma; the last accounts for 320 000 deaths per year. In Western countries, the disease is relatively rare and acquired primarily in adulthood, whereas in Asia and most of Africa, chronic HBV infection is common and usually acquired perinatally or in childhood. More efficacious treatments, mass immunization programs, and safe injection techniques are essential for eliminating HBV infection and reducing global HBV-related morbidity and mortality. Safe and effective vaccines against HBV infection have been available since 1982. The implementation of mass immunization programs, which have been recommended by the World Health Organization since 1991, have dramatically decreased the incidence of HBV infection among infants, children, and adolescents in many countries. However, not all countries have adopted these recommendations and there remains a large number of persons that were infected with HBV prior to the implementation of immunization programs. Antiviral treatment is the only way to reduce morbidity and mortality from chronic HBV infection. Conventional interferon alfa and lamivudine have been the primary treatments to date. Conventional interferon alfa produces a durable response in a moderate proportion of patients but has undesirable side-effects and must be administered subcutaneously three times per week. Lamivudine also produces a response in a modest proportion of patients and causes few side-effects. However, prolonged treatment is often necessary to prevent relapse on cessation of therapy, and continuous treatment can lead to the development of lamivudine resistance. Promising emerging new treatments include adefovir, entecavir and peginterferon alfa-2a (40 kDa).