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Hepatitis B

Updated: Jan 30


What is Hepatitis B?


Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by the Hepatitis B virus (HBV). This is a very common virus. It is a different virus from HSV (herpes), HPV, and HIV.

When we say common, we mean REALLY common.


More than 200,000 people are diagnosed each year. Any age can be affected, although infections are rare outside of those 19-60 years old.

Hepatitis B is not treatable.


Unfortunately, Hepatitis B has no cure, but it can go away on its own.


How It's Spread


Hepatitis B is spread by infected blood or contact with infected blood or bodily fluids (semen and saliva). It can be spread by having sexual intercourse with an infected partner or injection drug use that involves syringes, needles, or drug preparation equipment. Contact with blood from the sores of an infected person or birth, if a mother is infected, can also transmit HBV.

Sharing certain items with an infected person that can break skin or mucous membranes, like razors and toothbrushes, can result in possible exposure to blood and lead to infection. HBV can last a week outside of the body and still be infectious to anyone who uses it.

If you think something may be infected with HBV blood, it should be disinfected with a 1:10 dilution of one part bleach and ten parts water. It is strongly recommended to wear gloves during this process, or you may be infected. Dry blood or not, it is still contaminated and can still infect you.


Symptoms


Not all people with HBV have symptoms. The signs vary depending on the age of the infected.


Most children above the age of 5 and newly infected adults who are immunosuppressed generally don’t have any symptoms. 30%-50% of children under the age of 5 have symptoms. These symptoms are fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, urine pain, clay-colored feces, joint pain, and jaundice. Some people may also contract chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis, or hepatocellular carcinoma (primary liver cancer). You will experience symptoms in a range of 60-150 days after exposure to HBV.


Getting Tested


When testing for HBV, you will undergo three different serological tests: a hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) test, a hepatitis B surface antibody (anti-HBs) test, and a total hepatitis B core antibody (anti-HBc).


These tests can determine if a patient has an acute or chronic HBV infection and needs post-test counseling and linkage to care if they’re immune to HBV as a result of prior infection or vaccination. or if they are susceptible to infection and in need of vaccination. It's important to get tested regularly. If you're sexually active, this means at least once per year. Even if you or your partner don't show symptoms, you should follow this general rule of thumb.

Seriously.

If hepatitis B goes untreated, you are more susceptible to developing severe scarring of the liver, cirrhosis, and liver cancer.


Testing Positive


So, your results came back positive.

The first thing to remember is that this is nothing to be ashamed of. If you or your partner have hepatitis B, it does not necessarily mean anyone cheated. Test results may not detect chronic hepatitis B until well after contracting it. It can take from years to even decades in many cases to show up.

How do I get rid of it?

Sadly, there is no cure for hepatitis B, but sometimes it will go away on its own. Your doctor can prescribe you medications to help you with long-lasting hepatitis B infections. It can disappear on its own after 4-8 weeks, and 9 in 10 adults completely recover. However, 1 in 20 adults who recover become carriers, which means they have a chronic hepatitis b infection (liver cancer and cirrhosis). About 1 in 5 people die from chronic hepatitis B.


Prevention


Get vaccinated.

You can prevent HBV by getting a vaccine. All infants, unvaccinated children under the age of 19, people at risk for infection by sexual exposure, and people at risk for infection by percutaneous or mucosal exposure to blood should be tested. International travelers to countries with high or intermediate levels of hepatitis B virus infection, people with the hepatitis C virus infection, people with chronic liver disease, people with HIV, and people who are incarcerated should also be tested.

Wear protection.

If you are sexually active, use latex condoms every time you have sex. It can lower your chances of getting hepatitis B, but not entirely. You can still contract hepatitis B from areas that are not covered by a condom or by coming into contact with infected blood or other fluids.


 

References


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, July 28). Hepatitis B questions and answers for Health Professionals. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hbv/hbvfaq.htm#treatment


Planned Parenthood (n.d.). Where can I get treated for hepatitis B?: Treatment info. Planned Parenthood. https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/stds-hiv-safer-sex/hepatitis-b/how-do-i-get-treated-hepatitis-b



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