Hep B Blog

Diagnosed with Hepatitis B? Preventing Transmission to Others Learning the HBV Basics, Transmission Part II

Part I discussed how hepatitis B is transmitted and may have helped you determine how you were infected with HBV.   In Part II below we will discuss the people closest to you who may be susceptible to your infection.

Anyone exposed to HBV is susceptible. This is especially true if they have not already been vaccinated, or are not taking precautions. HBV does not discriminate. However, those most susceptible to infection are your sexual partners, close household contacts or family members. Why are the these people more susceptible?  Remember that HBV is transmitted through blood and infected body fluids, so sexual partners will be at risk. Unfortunately even close contacts without sexual intimacy will also be at risk. These include family members or roommates that might borrow your razor, the nail clippers on the downstairs counter, or your favorite pair of pierced earrings. Such personal items may have microscopic blood droplets on them.  Hepatitis B is a tenacious virus that can live outside the body for a solid week. It just makes sense that the odds of an exposure will happen with someone you live with just due to the increased potential for daily exposure in simple grooming routines or household activities.

It is also important to know that unvaccinated babies and young children are more susceptible to HBV. This is because they have undeveloped, immature immune systems. In fact 50-90% of children infected with hepatitis B (the younger the child, the higher the risk) will have life-long infection. That is why hepatitis B vaccination is so important for babies and young children.

So what should you do? You need to do the right thing. You need to talk to sexual partners and close contacts and family members now that you know you are infected. You don’t need to tell everyone; just those that you believe are at risk. Tell them to ask their doctor to run a hepatitis B panel.

The hepatitis B panel is one blood test with 3 parts: HBsAg – surface antigen;  HBcAb – core antibody; and HBsAb – surface antibody.  When read in combination, this one test can tell your close contacts if they are currently infected, have resolved a previous infection, and whether or not they have immunity to the hepatitis B virus. Typically the blood test results are straight forward, but sometimes they can be tricky. Ask those tested to discuss their results with their doctor, and to keep a copy of the blood tests results for review.

One important factor for those that may have been exposed is the timing. There is a 4-6 week window between an exposure to HBV and when the hepatitis B virus shows up in the blood resulting in a positive test result.  If you tell your partner and they insist on immediate testing, they need to understand that they will need to be re-tested 6 weeks later to ensure whether or not they have been infected. AND, it is essential to practice safe sex and follow general precautions until everyone is sure of their status –both the known and potentially infected.

Remember you may still be in a waiting period trying to determine if you are acutely or chronically infected. Very possibly you have not had symptoms with your HBV. Nearly 70% of those with newly infected with HBV have no notable symptoms. It’s also very likely you are unsure when you were infected.  And of course it’s possible you are chronically infected and have had HBV for quite some time. It’s stressful and little confusing not knowing the details of your infection, but you need to move forward doing the right thing and talking to those at risk and taking care of yourself.

Take a look at Part I and Part III for further discussion of HBV transmission.

Newly Diagnosed with Hepatitis B? How Did I Get this? Learning the HBV Basics, Transmission – Part I

If you have just been diagnosed with hepatitis B virus (HBV) then you need to understand how HBV is transmitted. This is the case whether you are acutely or chronically infected.  You must understand you are infectious at this time and can transmit the HBV virus to others.

How is hepatitis B transmitted? Hepatitis B is transmitted through blood and infected body fluids. This can happen through direct blood-to-blood contact, unprotected sex, unsterile needles, and from an infected mother to her baby. For kids, pediatric experts report that the fluid that oozes from cuts and open sores is also highly infectious. HBV can also be transmitted inadvertently by the sharing of personal items such as razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers, and other personal hygiene items.  HBV is not transmitted casually by sneezing or coughing, shaking hands or sharing a meal. In fact it is not contracted during most of life’s daily activities. Hugging or even kissing won’t cause infection unless there are bloody gums during the exchange. It’s really all about the infected blood and sexual fluids.  For example, it’s not about the saliva on the toothbrush that is a big concern, but rather the potential for trace amounts of blood that could be exchanged with a toothbrush from inflamed or bleeding gums.

How did I get this? If you have been diagnosed with hepatitis B virus you are likely racking your brain trying to figure out how you could have gotten HBV. Some can immediately track their likely exposure to a recent event, or perhaps a time period in their life where they were more likely to have been exposed. They may fit into an at-risk category for hepatitis B due to lifestyle choices, country of origin, frequent travel and exposure in endemic areas of the world, high risk employment, or unsafe blood or medical or dental procedures without adequate infection control. (Sadly, this is common in many parts of our world). Then again, the person may be older, and has maintained a long, monogamous relationship like a lady I spoke with recently that likely got her acute infection on the job cleaning bathrooms in office buildings. Had she not had obvious symptoms, she may have gone years without learning of her HBV infection.

Since HBV is a silent infection there can be years before it is detected.  Many individuals born in endemic parts of the globe find out later in life that they are hepatitis B positive, even though they have likely had HBV since birth or early-childhood. Children are especially vulnerable to chronic HBV. 50-90% of children and babies infected with HBV will remain chronic and most will have no symptoms.  Often it remains undetected until it is caught in routine blood work or later in life when there may be liver disease progression. In Asia, vertical transmission from mother to child is very common; whereas in Africa, horizontal transmission at a young age is often the culprit.  Since kids are notorious for scrapes, oozing boo-boos and bug bites, play and close contact among siblings and peers puts little ones at risk.  Additionally, where and how they live can also be factors for increased risk.

Although not casually transmitted, there are innumerable, inadvertent opportunities for exposure to hepatitis B. If you are from an area where HBV is very common, then of course the odds of exposure, transmission, and infection will be higher throughout your entire life. If you do, or have participated in high-risk activities at some point in your life, you are also at greater risk. People are often quick to point out that they have never injected drugs or participated in more obvious high-risk activities, but let’s face it – multiple sex partners? Certainly sexual experimentation in college or early adulthood is not that unique. The girl from my dorm that traveled to every party with her toothbrush because she didn’t know where she would “spend the night” is now happily married with two kids. However, her previous behavior unknowingly put her at risk for HBV infection.  Things happen, people change, or sometimes they don’t. This isn’t a time for judging, it’s a reflection of what happened yesterday or 20 years ago that may have exposed you to HBV and resulted in infection.  That being said, unless it happened just recently and you can definitively identify your exposure, I would advise that you let it go and move forward. I spent a number of years wondering about the details of my daughter’s infection, but ultimately, it really doesn’t matter.

Time to move forward.

The next step – preventing transmission to others…

An Event-Filled Hepatitis Awareness Month for the Hepatitis B Foundation and Hep B United Philadelphia

Hepatitis Awareness Month has come to a close, and it has been one exciting, busy month for those of us at HBF and Hep B United Philadelphia. In the course of 6 weeks, we have had many of our major events of the year – nearly all featured during Hepatitis Awareness Month or on Hepatitis Testing Day.  Have a look at what we’ve been up to this past month…

HBF preceded the month with its annual, signature fund-raising event. The Crystal Ball was held April 27th and was a very successful, enchanted evening for all in attendance. HBF exceeded goals for the year, and we were pleased to honor Dr. Howard Koh, Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), who was presented with the Baruch S. Blumberg Prize for his leadership in creating the HHS Action Plan for Viral Hepatitis.

The Hepatitis B Foundation was selected as this month’s featured partner by CDC NPIN. What a great honor, and a wonderful opportunity for HBF to showcase some of our programs, services and materials.

On May 15th, AAPCHO and HBF, with the support of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health, launched the Hep B United national campaign.  This unique partnering and collaborative effort will bring attention and action to end hepatitis B – especially among high-risk Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) in the U.S. You’re going to see a lot of activity out of Hep B United...

HBF’s Director of Public Policy & Affairs set off to Washington D.C. to attend the Congressional Briefing on Chronic Viral Hepatitis and Liver Cancer hosted by our champions in Congress.  Keeping Hepatitis in the hearts and minds of our elected Representatives is paramount in supporting viral hepatitis efforts in our country.

Hep B United Philadelphia wrapped up its awesome “B A Hero” PSA video contest and finalists and winners were announced. Check out these great PSAs!

Hepatitis Testing Day and the days leading up to the event were extremely busy for the Hepatitis B Foundation, Hep B United Philadelphia, and Partners. We kicked off testing day with our awareness-raising Flash Mob Event in Love Park in Philadelphia. This fantastic event included special guests Mayor Nutter, and Councilman David Oh, and plenty of other notable Hep B Heroes in attendance.  It was an honor to receive a City Proclamation by Councilman Oh, supporting efforts to eradicate hepatitis B in the city of Philadelphia. And of course the students put their spin on the event with a “B A Hero” Rap. You have to listen to this...

Saturday, Hepatitis Testing Day, Hep B United Heroes donned their hero capes for the Hepatitis Testing Day Event held at the Asian Pacific Heritage Festival in Philadelphia. It was a successful event with 112 screened. Those screened and in need of vaccination will be provided with the HBV vaccination series, free of charge, from the Philadelphia Department of Health.

That same day, Hepatitis B Foundation heroes hosted HBF’s B Informed Conference. This year’s conference was specifically directed to parents of children with hepatitis B. This was an incredible full-day conference. Expert specialists in the field addressed both the medical issues and personal challenges of parenting a child with hepatitis B.  It was a wonderful opportunities for parents to meet and discuss, face-to-face, with families facing like challenges. Lasting bonds were created that day. You’ll want to check back at a later time to read a reflection on the day, and access information presented by our expert speakers.

And finally we end this month’s awareness efforts this weekend by participating in the Philadelphia Independence Dragon Boat Regatta. Team Philadelphia Hep B Heroes will (hopefully) row their boat to victory, but even if they don’t win, they are winners at heart. The team is composed not of an expert crew, but rather Hep B United Philly community partners, student partners and staff. If you’re in Philly, stop by and cheer the team to victory. Plenty of team members will be at the event to raise HBV awareness and discuss hepatitis B testing, prevention and treatment.

There were a lot of Hep B Heroes out there this month.  Feel free to share the events of your organization this month!