Hep B Blog

Why Give the Hepatitis B Vaccine to Infants?

The CDC recommends a birth dose of the hepatitis B vaccine for all babies. Pediatrician, Dr. Allison Shuman explains why in this informative video.

If you live in a part of the world where chronic HBV is at a medium (2-7% of population) or high prevalence rate (greater than 8% of population), your child is especially susceptible and at-risk for hepatitis B, with HBV transmission often occurring vertically from mother to child at birth, and horizontally from an HBV infected adult or another child’s infected body fluids to an unvaccinated baby or child. Please be sure that pregnant women are screened for hepatitis B. If mom tests positive for HBV, be sure baby receives a birth dose of the HBV vaccine and a shot of HBIG within 12 hours of birth. If mom tests negative for HBV, be sure that baby receives a birth dose of the HBV vaccine before leaving the hospital. Both babies of HBV infected and uninfected mom’s should receives shots 2 and 3 of the series according to schedule. Babies of infected mom’s should be tested at 18 months to be sure baby is hepatitis B free.

Please make arrangements with your doctor and the hospital to receive the HBV vaccine for your baby, prior to delivery, so you are sure the vaccine and/or HBIG are available at the hospital so prophylaxis can be given within 12 hours of birth. Please feel free to print and distribute  Chronic Hepatitis B in Pregnancy: Screening, Evaluation and Management (Part I and Part II) to your doctor.

 

Consider Viral Hepatitis Issues When you Vote

Election Day is fast approaching, and while there are many important issues to ponder, don’t forget to consider the candidates’ positions on vial hepatitis and health care issues.  There are 435 seats in the House of Representatives on the ballot, along with 33 senate seats.  The National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable (NVHR) sent surveys to the House and Senate asking them their position on viral hepatitis funding, the Affordable Care Act, the syringe exchange ban, HHS strategic plan, and the Viral Hepatitis Testing Act. Surveys continue to be returned, but were updated October 24th to reflect new additions. To read the returned candidate responses, go to NVHR’s Candidate Survey .  If you don’t see your state’s candidate included in the collection of surveys, contact the candidate, educate them on viral hepatitis issues, and personalize the cause if you are able.  If you need help, contact Ryan Clary, Director or Programs, and ask him about your Congressional candidate’s position on viral hepatitis prevention and treatment efforts, and what you might do to help the cause. Be sure to get out there and vote – Tuesday, November 6th.

 

Diagnosed with Chronic Hepatitis B? What do the HBe Blood Tests Mean?

Your liver specialist has informed you that you have a chronic hepatitis B infection, and that he wants to run additional blood work so he can learn more about your HBV. Some of this blood work may need to be repeated over a period of time, but over the next 6 months or so, your doctor will determine whether or not you are a good candidate for treatment.  Regardless, he will definitely want to continue monitoring. Remember, treatment is important, but rarely an emergency, so be patient.

Now you need additional lab work to determine your HBe status, which will tell you whether or not you are HBeAg and HBeAb (anti-HBe) negative or positive. This reveals a great deal about your HBV such as whether or not the virus is replicating, and how infectious you are to others.

At this point, it is helpful to have a little background on antigens and antibodies.  An antigen is a foreign substance in your body that evokes an immune response. This may include viruses, bacteria or other environmental agents such as pollen or a chemical. In this case, it is the HBV e antigen. Your previous hepatitis B panel tested for the surface antigen, or HBsAg.

Antibodies are produced as a result of an immune system response to antigens. These antigen/antibody pairings are unique. An antibody response can be generated as a result of an immune response to an actual infection, or as a result of vaccination.  An uninfected person vaccinated against hepatitis B will generate an immune response, or surface antibody (HBsAb, or anti-HBs) to the HBV vaccine.

The hepatitis e antigen, or HBeAg, is a marker of an actively replicating HBV virus infection. Those with a positive HBeAg have active replication in their liver cells, more of the virus circulating in their blood, and as a result, they are more infectious, with a higher likelihood of transmitting HBV to others.  Most often, when a person is HBeAg positive, they tend to be HBeAb negative and vice-versa. This active, replicating phase may go on for weeks, as in the case of an acute infection, or for years, or even decades in those chronically infected.

Eventually most move into a non-replicative stage. During this time, e antigen (HBeAg) is no longer in the blood, and the anti-HBe antibody (HBeAb) is generated and appears in blood work. This HBeAg serconversion, or loss of HBeAg and the gaining of the antibody, HBeAb, can happen due to treatment, or spontaneously without treatment. Entering this stage is typically a good thing, and is often a goal of treatment.  However, monitoring by your liver specialist bi-annually or at least annually is essential, even if you have had an HBeAg serconversion years ago and are considered in the non-replicative phase.

HBV is complicated, and sometimes you may relapse. In other words, you may seroconvert losing HBeAg and gaining the HBeAb antibody, but it may not be durable, and you may have an HBeAg reversion to an actively replicating stage where you are once again HBeAg positive and HBeAb negative.  Years ago they called it “flip-flopping”.  This possibility is one of many reasons why regular monitoring by your liver specialist is so important.

The other possibility is the development of HBe-negative hepatitis B, which is the result of hepatitis B mutations. These precore or core promoter mutations replicate without generating the HBe antigen. However, they are actively generating the virus, though typically not at the levels of those with HBeAg positive HBV.  Once again, it is critical to continue regular monitoring by your liver specialist, so you are sure you have not begun active generation of HBe negative mutations.

Additional blood work ordered by your liver specialist will further clarify your HBeAg and over-all HBV status, and whether or not treatment may benefit you.

More next time…

Diagnosed with Hepatitis B? Do You Need Treatment?

When people learn they are infected with hepatitis B, the first thing they want to know is “what can I take to get rid of this disease?” It can be complicated, and what can be even more difficult to understand is that during different stages of the disease there may be absolutely no benefit from currently available treatments.

Just diagnosed with HBV? Are you acute or chronic? 

First, if you have just been diagnosed with HBV, it is imperative that you determine if you have an acute or chronic infection. If you have an acute, or new infection, then it is important to know that very few people require any sort of treatment. Just be sure you are being monitored by your doctor, and take good care of your health and be sure to prevent transmission to others during this time.

Chronically infected, now what?

If your doctor determines you are chronically infected, then you will need additional information to determine what your next steps should be.

Remember that unless you display urgent symptoms, such as jaundice, or a bloated abdomen, or severe illness, you really can wait a few weeks, or even a few months, to see a liver specialist. Many people panic if they are unable to see a liver specialist immediately.  Relax, find a good doctor, learn what you can about hepatitis B, and take care while you wait.

How will you be evaluated?

Your liver specialist will do a complete work-up on you. He will perform a physical examination, get a complete medical history, and he will run additional blood tests to learn more about your hepatitis B status and your liver health. He may also get a baseline ultrasound or perform other diagnostic imaging procedures to gain more data so he can make a decision whether or not you would benefit from treatment at this time.  Some of the blood work may need to be repeated over a period of time before your doctor decides whether or not to move forward with treatment. Do not beg your doctor for treatment. Waiting and watching is sometimes the smartest thing to do.  Treatment is rarely an emergency. Time is on your side, so please be patient.

What can you do while you wait?

This is a good time to look at some of your personal lifestyle choices and consider some basic changes that might benefit you at this time. Avoid alcohol, and stop smoking. Focus on eating a well-balanced diet filled with fresh vegetables, fruit, whole grains and lean meats. Avoid fast and processed foods when possible. They may contain trans fats, partially hydrogenated fats, high fructose corn syrup and other less desirable “ingredients”. Don’t’ forget to get everyone in the household screened and vaccinated against HBV if you have not already done so.

What’s next? Tune in next time to learn about some of your blood work…

Hepatitis D Coinfection with Hepatitis B

Hepatitis D virus (HDV) – the “D” is for delta – is a viral enigma that doesn’t act like a normal virus. It is helpless – that is, it can’t infect a cell – without its viral accomplice, the hepatitis B virus (HBV), and makes infection with HBV worse.

Delta virus can only cause illness in those already infected with HBV, said Timothy Block, Ph.D., President and Co-Founder of the Hepatitis B Foundation, Professor and Director, Drexel University Institute for Biotechnology and Virology Research.

“It can take quiescent HBV and turn it into an acute, lethal viral infection,” Block said. “Liver disease – cirrhosis, liver failure – that might take decades to develop or could only take a year or two. Delta virus converts HBV infection into an emergency situation.”

“It’s one of the most severe forms of human viral hepatitis,” said Jeffrey Glenn, MD, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Medicine at Stanford Cancer Institute.

“Delta virus is a parasite of HBV because it encodes its own genome and coat-like protein but it doesn’t make its own envelope protein,” Glenn explained. “It steals that from HBV. It needs the B envelope protein to make its own, and this provides a means to infect new cells and subsequently make a fully formed viral particle to get out of those cells to infect others.”

Individuals can acquire delta virus two ways: Either after infection with HBV, which is called a “superinfection” and more likely to stay chronic, or a “co-infection”, which entails becoming infected with both viruses at the same time. In the latter, acute infections are more severe and increase the likelihood of developing liver disease much more quickly.

Worldwide, more than 15 million are infected, though fewer than 100,000 in the U.S. have the virus. It is concentrated in particular regions worldwide. Mediterranean areas such as southern Italy and southern Greece, for example, have larger than usual numbers of affected individuals, and in Turkey it is endemic. There are eight reported genotypes of HDV, which vary by geographical distribution and pathogenicity. Some believe that HDV’s incidence is declining. This is likely due to the hepatitis B vaccined and the resulting decrease in HBV carriers.

Because HDV is not a huge problem in the U.S., it flies under the radar screen of public awareness. Screening for HDV is not routinely ordered; however, infection with delta virus should always be considered when a patient with chronic liver disease suddenly gets worse.

Researchers have been frustrated in their attempts to develop effective treatments against HDV. Newer antiviral drugs that keep down levels of HBV DNA don’t do much against delta virus because they don’t affect the HBV envelope protein. The response rate to pegylated interferon alpha is typically poor.

With research there is always hope. Currently, there is a clinical trial of lonafarnib for the treatment of those coinfected with hepatitis B and D in the United States. It was originally developed for the treatment of different types of cancers. Perhaps additional information will come out of this year’s International Meeting on Molecular Biology of Hepatitis B Viruses. We shall soon hear.

Hepatitis D Fast facts:

—   Delta hepatitis is one of the most severe forms of viral hepatitis.

—   It is an incomplete viral particle that was discovered in 1997.

—   Approximately 15 million people are infected with HDV worldwide.

—   In the U.S., an estimated 6,000-13,000 people suffer acute HDV infection 
each year; 30,000 suffer from chronic HDV; and 1,000 Americans die 
from HDV-related diseases annually.

—   It is transmitted by blood from people already infected with hepatitis B.

—   Preventing hepatitis B, especially vaccination, will prevent HDV.

—   There is currently no effective treatment for HDV