Hepatitis B

In other articles on this website, we have talked about human immunodeficiency virus or HIV and AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) including its treatment and prevention such as condoms, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). HIV, however, is not the only sexually transmitted infection that you should be aware of.​

One of these is Hepatitis B, a liver disease that is infectious. Healthcare providers note thatHepatitis B is 50 to 100 times more contagious than HIV. The good news is there are vaccines available to prevent Hepatitis B transmission. In this article, we will discuss this disease, its symptoms, transmissions, as well as prevention and treatment.

What is Hepatitis B?

An infectious liver disease, Hepatitis B is caused by a virus that is called the Hepatitis B virus (HBV). For some people, Hepatitis B can be “acute”, which means that they will experience a mild to severe illness within the first six months of exposure to the virus. Some people may recover from the acute infection, which means that they will become immune (and not get Hepatitis B again)  and not spread the virus to others.​

For other people, Hepatitis B can develop into a chronic infection. In this case, Hepatitis B will stay in their body and the virus can spread to other people. Hepatitis B may cause further complications such as cirrhosis and liver cancer.

How does Hepatitis B spread?

Hepatitis B can spread from exposure to blood or bodily fluids, such as semen, that is already infected with the virus. As a sexually transmitted infection, Hepatitis B can be transmitted when one sex partner is already infected with the virus.

  • Sharing needles, syringes, or other drug-related instruments when people who are not infected with Hepatitis B use injection drugs with people who are already infected with the virus
  • Sharing items that may be contaminated with blood of those who are infected with the virus such as toothbrushes, razors, or medical equipment
  • Immediate contact with blood,open wounds or sores of a person who is already infected with Hepatitis B Blood transfusions
  • Mothers who are already infected with Hepatitis B can transmit the virus to their baby during childbirth. Breastfeeding, however, does not spread the virus from the mother to her child.​

Holding hands with people who are infected with Hepatitis B does not pose any harm for people who are not infected with the virus. Sharing eating utensils, hugging, sneezing, coughing, and kissing also do not put people who do not have Hepatitis B at risk of becoming infected with the virus.

What are the symptoms of Hepatitis B?  

Most people do not know when they are already infected with Hepatitis B, as they will usually have no symptoms even years after exposure to the virus. In some cases, people who have Hepatitis B will experience an infection that may be chronic, and last for six months or more. Hepatitis B symptoms may include one or more of the following:​

  • Fatigue
  • Body ache
  • Fever
  • Feeling unwell
  • Appetite loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach ache
  • Jaundice
  • Dark or pale urine​

How do I avoid Hepatitis B?

There are vaccines available for those who wish to avoid getting infected with Hepatitis B. In addition, you can avoid any contamination with the virus by following some steps including:​

  • Washing your hands thoroughly and regularly, especially if after any  possible exposure to blood
  • Always use condoms during sex, especially if you do not know the other person’s Hepatitis B status. ·     Avoid any contact with blood and bodily fluids that may be contaminated.·     Avoid sharing sharp items (e.g. toothbrushes, razors, nail clippers, and earrings) that may be contaminated with blood for possible infection of  Hepatitis B. 
  • Should needles be used during drug use, avoid sharing needles.  Consider getting help for your drug use in order to avoid this altogether.
  • Ensure that sterilized needles are used when getting piercings, tattoos, or acupuncture
  • Use bleach to clean up blood spills​

Are there vaccines to prevent Hepatitis B?

Yes, there are. In fact, there are two types of vaccines that are currently available as tools for the prevention of Hepatitis B. The first is the Hepatitis B vaccine, which can protect you and loved ones from the Hepatitis B virus. There is also a combination vaccine that can provide protection from both Hepatitis B and Hepatitis A.

If I take PrEP for HIV prevention, will it also protect against Hepatitis B?​

According to research, PrEP can protect you from Hepatitis B infection so long as tests have confirmed that you have no pre-existing liver conditions. That being said, taking extra precautions such as using condoms and getting vaccinations remain the most recommended prevention tool for Hepatitis B.​

How do I know if I have Hepatitis B?

While there are symptoms that Hepatitis B can develop, they will often visibly appear in later stages of the disease. The only way to determine your Hepatitis B status is by taking a blood test.​

Can Hepatitis B be cured?

Treatments for people infected with Hepatitis B depend on the severity of their condition. Please consult with your doctor to determine whether you should be offered treatments.​

Generally speaking, if your doctor has assessed that your immune system is too weak to handle the virus and your liver has been damaged by the virus, then they will offer you alternative treatments.​

Unfortunately, while there are many ways to prevent the contraction of Hepatitis B, there is no cure once it has entered the body.​

There are, however, treatments to keep the virus under control that prevent  damage of the liver. That being said, this type of treatment does not necessarily cure Hepatitis B and ongoing treatment will be necessary.