Hep B Blog

Category Archives: Hepatitis B Prevention

October is Liver Cancer Awareness Month! What’s the Hep B Connection?

Liver Cancer Ribbon

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), liver cancer is the second most common cancer in the world, leading to 788,000 annual deaths worldwide. Most liver cancer cases occur in developing countries. More than 80 percent of these cancers are found in sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Asia where more than 20 of every 100,000 people will suffer and die from liver cancer. However, liver cancer is alarmingly on the rise in developed countries, as well. In a recent study, researchers from The American Cancer Society found that liver cancer is the fastest-growing cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Only 20 percent of people diagnosed with liver cancer survive beyond five years, and the number of deaths have doubled since the mid-1980s, and they are expected to continue to rise.

Why is liver cancer growing in most of the world? There are many risk factors for liver cancer, but chronic hepatitis B accounts for up to 60% of liver cancer and is the most common risk factor for this type of cancer. People who are chronically infected with hepatitis B are 100 times more likely to develop liver cancer compared to those who are not. The hepatitis B virus attacks the liver directly and repeatedly over time. This can lead to liver damage and scarring of the liver (or cirrhosis); which greatly increases the risk of liver cancer.

Sometimes, people with hepatitis B can develop liver cancer even when they do not have cirrhosis. There are a number of complicating factors which can  increase the risk of liver cancer including traits specific to the virus and the person and their health status, which should be discussed with a liver specialist to determine when you should initiate screening.

Forms

How many years have you had hepatitis B? The longer you’re infected, the higher your risk of liver cancer.

What is your gender? Men are considered at higher risk of liver cancer and may be screened starting at an earlier age because they may be more likely to smoke, drink alcohol, have more “active” hepatitis, and higher iron stores—all of which increase cancer risk. Estrogen is believed to protect pre-menopausal women against liver cancer.

Have you had a high viral load (HBV DNA) after age 30? Having a viral load exceeding 2,000 international units per milliliter (IU/mL) is associated with a higher risk of liver cancer even if you have no other signs of liver damage.

Do you have a family history of liver cancer? If an immediate family member has had liver cancer, this greatly increases your risk.

Are you overweight, or have you been diagnosed recently with type 2 diabetes? A fatty liver and/or diabetes increase your risk of liver damage and cancer dramatically when you’re also infected with hepatitis B.

Do you have hepatitis B virus genotype C or core/precore viral mutations? Originating in Asia, this hepatitis B strain is associated with loss of the hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg) later in life. That means you may have had a high viral load and liver damage for a longer period than people with genotypes who clear HBeAg at a younger age. Having core or precore mutations in your HBV also increase liver cancer risk.

If you are living with chronic hepatitis B and are concerned about liver cancer, there are steps you can take. Working with a good health care provider to manage your hepatitis B is important, as is having a healthy lifestyle. Talk to you doctor about your risk, and about getting screened for liver cancer at least annually – early detection saves lives!

To commemorate Liver Cancer Awareness Month this October, help us spread the word about the link between hepatitis B and liver cancer! You can also join our Twitter Chat on Thursday, October 12th at 2:00pm – along with our partners CDC Division of Viral Hepatitis, and the National Alliance of State and Territorial Aids Directors (NASTAD). To join the chat, use the hashtag #liverchat. For more information, visit our blog post.

Remember to talk to your doctor about the risk factors for liver cancer, and if you have hepatitis B, ask to get screened for liver cancer. For more information about liver cancer visit the Liver Cancer Connect website.

Who’s at Risk for Hepatitis B? Learning the Hep B Basics

 

Are you or someone you know at risk for hepatitis B? You might be more at risk than you think, and since hepatitis B is vaccine preventable, it makes sense to get tested and vaccinated for HBV.  Hepatitis B is the number one cause of liver cancer worldwide. The survival statistics for liver cancer are particularly grim, with a relative 16,6% 5-year survival rate.  The hepatitis B vaccine also protects against hepatitis delta, the most severe form of viral hepatitis.

It is important to note that everyone is susceptible to hepatitis B. It does not discriminate.  It infects, babies, children, teens, adults and seniors. It has no racial or religious bias, though it is certainly more prevalent among certain ethnic groups –mainly because it is endemic to the homelands of these communities. For example, if you look at the prevalence map for hepatitis B, you will see that in most of the world, hepatitis B is at an intermediate, (2-7%) or high HBsAg prevalence (>8%) level.  Looking at the numbers, 2 billion people in the world, that’s 1 out of 3 people, have been infected with HBV and 257 million are chronically infected. That represents three-quarters of our world. Even if you aren’t living in these parts of the world, you may be traveling to some of these areas for work or pleasure, or perhaps your parents and other family members were born in HBV endemic areas.  Since there are often no symptoms for HBV, and screening and vaccination may be lacking in some populations, HBV is transmitted from one generation to the next, with many completely unaware of their HBV status – until it’s too late.

People at risk for hepatitis B include the following: (not noted in a particular order)

  • Health care providers and emergency responders due to the nature of their work and potential for exposure.
  • Sexually active heterosexuals (more than 1 partner in the past six months)
  • Men who have sex with men (MSM)
  • Individuals diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease (STD)
  • Illicit drug users (injecting, inhaling, snorting, pill popping)
  • Sex contacts or close household members of an infected person (remember, you may not know who is or is not infected)
  • Children adopted from countries where hepatitis B is common (Asia, Africa, South America, Pacific Islands, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East) and their adopted families
  • Individuals emigrating from countries where hepatitis B is common (see above)
  • Individuals born to parents who have emigrated from countries where hepatitis B is common (see above)
  • ALL pregnant women – because infants are so vulnerable to HBV (90% of infected infants will remain chronically infected, and HBV is very effectively transmitted from infected mother to baby.)
  • Recipients of a blood transfusion before 1992
  • Recipients of unscreened blood and blood products – sadly an issue in many parts of the world.
  • Recipients of medical or dental services where strict infection control practices are not followed – sadly another issue in parts of the world.
  • Kidney dialysis patients and those in early renal failure
  • Inmates of a correctional facility
  • Staff and clients of institutions for the developmentally disabled
  • Individuals with tattoos and body piercings performed in a parlor that does not strictly adhere to infection control practices – it may be up to you to ensure proper infection control practices are followed.
  • People living with diabetes are at risk if diabetes-care equipment such as syringes or insulin pens are inadvertently shared.

The good news is that hepatitis B is a vaccine preventable disease. There is a safe and effective, 3-shot HBV vaccine series that can protect you and your loved ones from possible infection with HBV.  The earlier you are vaccinated, the better. In the US, a birth dose of the vaccine is recommended for all infants, since these little ones are most vulnerable to hepatitis. (90% of infected infants will live with HBV for life). HBV vaccination doesn’t give you a free-pass from other infectious diseases such as HCV or HIV, both without vaccines, so strict infection control practices should still be followed. However, HBV is a tenacious virus that survives outside the body for a week and is 50-100 times more infectious than HIV  3-5 times more infectious than HCV.  Plus the HBV vaccine is actually an anti-cancer vaccine, so why not get vaccinated?

Hepatitis B isn’t casually transmitted, but in the right scenario, it is effectively transmitted. You may think that situation may never come about for you, or for your loved ones –especially your little ones who are so vulnerable to HBV. Some people travel to exotic lands with unsafe blood supplies and poor infection control practices, and sometimes they get sick, or require emergency dental or medical services, so they may be put at risk. Most people have had a lapse in judgment – sometimes it’s a one-time thing, sometimes it lasts for years, but the net-net is that it’s unusual to find someone who has not engaged in some sort of high-risk activity, whether intentionally or unintentionally. If you are properly vaccinated to protect against hepatitis B, you can cross that concern off your list.

B sure. Get screened. if you do not have HBV, get vaccinated and be hepatitis B free. If you discover you have HBV, talk to your doctor and have him refer you to a liver specialist who can better evaluate your hepatitis B status and your liver health.

Diagnosed with Hepatitis B? Preventing Transmission to Others. Learning the HBV Basics Transmission – Part III

How can you prevent future transmission? Now that you are aware of your infection, it’s easier than you think.  In a perfect world, everyone would be vaccinated against HBV and be protected, but of course this is sometimes not the case. Always encourage HBV vaccination when possible now that you understand the importance of this safe and effective 3-shot series. However, the vaccine does take time to complete, so in the interim, some general precautions will keep you and everyone you know safe.

Always maintain a barrier between blood and infected body fluids and any open cuts, mucous membranes (eyes, nose or mouth), or orifices of someone else. Keep cuts, bug bites – anything that bleeds or oozes – covered with a bandage. Also, remember to carry a spare bandage.  These are some simple prevention methods.

Do not consider unprotected sex unless you are sure your partner has had all 3 shots of the HBV vaccine series. And remember to consider the risks of other infectious diseases that are transmitted sexually if you are not in a monogamous relationship.  Multiple sex partners and non-monogamous relationships expose you to the potential of more health risks and even the possibility of a co-infection.  Co-infections are when someone has more than one serious chronic condition (like HBV and HCV , HBV and HIV or HBV and HDV).  Co-infections are complicated health conditions that you want to avoid. Therefore, practice safe sex by using a latex or polyurethane condom if you have multiple partners.

General precautions include carefully handling of your own blood, tending to your own blood spills when possible, and properly disposing of feminine hygiene products. Properly dispose of blood stained materials in tightly closed plastic bags. If someone else must tend to your bleeding wound or clean up your blood spill, be sure they wear gloves, or maintain a barrier, and wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water.  Many germs and virus (like HBV) can be effectively killed when cleaned using a diluted bleach solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water.  Ideally this solution should be made when needed as the shelf life is limited.  Everyone should use these basic precautions – with or without a known HBV infection.  Make this part of your daily life.

And what about your personal items?  Well it’s best if they are kept personal and out of common areas unless everyone is vaccinated. This includes things like razors, nail clippers, files, toothbrushes and other personal items where microscopic droplets of blood are possible.  This is good practice for everyone in the house. After all, you may not be the only one with an infection. Simple changes in daily habits keep everyone safe.

If those at risk in your life are not already vaccinated or have not recovered from a past infection, then they need to start the series immediately. This includes sexual partners and close house hold contacts and  family members. The HBV vaccine is a safe and effective 3-shot series.  Timing may be of concern or a sense of urgency, so just get it started. The regular schedule is completed within six months. Tack on an extra month and ask their doctor to test surface antibody (anti-HBs) titers 1-2 months following the last shot of the series to ensure that adequate immunity has been generated by the vaccine.  This is not standard routine but will help insure those at higher risk that they are protected. In the interim, remember to practice safe sex with your partner using latex or polyurethane condoms.

The timing of the antibody titre should be 4-8 weeks following the last shot of the series. If titers are above 10 then there is protection for life.  If someone has been previously vaccinated a titer test may show that their titers have waned and dipped below the desired reading. There is no reason to panic, as a booster shot can be administered and then a repeated titer test one month later will ensure adequate immunity. Once you know you have generated adequate titers, there is no need for concern of transmission.

When recovering from an acute infection, if your follow up blood test results read: HBsAg negative, HBcAb positive and HBsAb positive then you have resolved your HBV infection and are no longer infectious to others and you are no longer at risk for infection by the HBV virus again.

However if your follow up blood tests show that you are chronically infected or your infection status is not clear, you will want to take the precautionary steps to prevent transmitting your HBV infection to others. You will also need to talk to your doctor to be sure you have the appropriate blood work to determine your HBV status and whether or not you are chronically infected.

Please be sure to talk to your doctor if you are unsure, and don’t forget to get copies of those labs. Check out  transmission part I and part II if you are looking for a little more transmission information.

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 we will discuss the people closest to you who may be susceptible to your infection.

Anyone exposed to HBV is susceptible. This is true if you 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 may 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 trace amounts of blood on them.  Hepatitis B can live outside the body for a 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 where blood could be exchanged. The good news is that HBV is preventable.

It is 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 90% of babies and up to 50% of young children infected with HBV 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 up to a 9 week window period 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 9 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 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 unsterile medical or dental equipment, 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 items that may have trace amounts of blood on them.

HBV is not transmitted casually by sneezing or coughing, shaking hands or sharing or preparing 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 bleeding gums or open sores during the exchange. It’s really all about trace amounts of infected blood, though the virus is in other bodily fluids in lower concentrations.  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 shared toothbrush.

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, but accidents can happen anywhere).

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. 90% of babies and up to 50% of young children 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.

Although not casually transmitted, there are inadvertent opportunities for exposure to hepatitis B. If you are from an area where HBV is very common, then the odds of exposure, transmission, and infection will be higher. 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. 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, Part II

A Capitol Celebration: US Leaders in Hepatitis B Celebrate World Hepatitis Day

Hep B United (HBU), a coalition established by the Hepatitis B Foundation (HBF) and the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations (AAPCHO), held its fifth annual Hep B United Summit from July 26th to 28th in Washington D.C. The summit was held to promote screening and prevention strategies and advocate for a cure to further HBU’s mission to eliminate hepatitis B in the United States.

The summit is the largest gathering of hepatitis B leaders from around the country including public health agencies, national non-profit organizations, community coalitions, and individuals and family members affected by hep B. Catherine Freeland, MPH, Public Health Manager of HBF, said, “The summit is like a family reunion.” It’s an opportunity for HBU members to convene, share best strategies, and celebrate their wins over the past five years. The partnerships within HBU ensures that best practices and resources are shared as well. “Once we have a cure, we are committed to making sure chronically infected Americans get it,” Chari Cohen, DrPH, MPH, co-chair of HBU mentioned during the summit. Over the past year, HBU screened 22,556, educated 52,194, and reached over 6 million people with in-language hepatitis B messaging! That’s a win for sure!

As a part of the summit, HBU partners visited Capitol Hill to discuss with federal legislators the need to support hepatitis B and liver cancer research, education, screening, and treatment programs. A Congressional reception was also held to highlight the “#justB: Real People Sharing their Stories of Hepatitis B” storytelling campaign, which increases awareness of hepatitis B through personal stories. There were also meeting sessions focusing on capacity building, sustaining local hepatitis B coalitions, and best ways to utilize resources like the “Know Hepatitis B” campaign from the CDC and Hep B United and the #justB campaign. The Hep B United Summit is a way to celebrate World Hepatitis Day, which is on July 28th every year. Partners celebrated and raised awareness for World Hepatitis Day around Capitol Hill with a scavenger hunt!

At the Summit, HBU and its CDC partners presented five community leaders with the 2017 Hep B Champion Awards in recognition of their outstanding commitment to eliminating hepatitis B and liver cancer in their communities:

 Cathy Phan, the Health Initiatives Project Manager at HOPE Clinic in Houston, Texas, is recognized for her dedication to reducing health disparities, advocating for access to health care and health equity for underserved populations. Cathy brings unique perspectives, best practices and creative, innovative ideas from the local community clinics to the national level.

Vivian Huang, MD, MPH, the Director of Adult Immunization and Emergency Preparedness for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the medical director for the NYC Department of Health Immunization Clinic is recognized for her commitment to reducing the burden of vaccine-preventable diseases locally and globally including hepatitis B and liver cancer. Dr. Huang is a strong, tireless advocate for hepatitis B prevention, education, and treatment and health equity through health department engagement.

Hong Liu, PhD, the Executive Director of the Midwest Asian Health Association in Chicago, Illinois, is recognized for her innovative approaches to educating the public on hepatitis B and her willingness to share her best practices and experiences with others working in the field. This year, Dr. Liu’s leadership has led her organization to educating over 1,337 individuals in Chicago’s Chinatown district and screening close to 300 individuals for hepatitis B.

Dan-Tam Phan-Hoang, MSc., is program manager of HBI-Minnesota, a Minneapolis, Minnesota-based non-profit that she helped start in 2015. Dan-Tam is recognized for her leadership in Minneapolis, building strong collaborations with community leaders, healthcare providers, funders, and government agencies to address hepatitis B throughout the state and successfully establishing a hepatitis B outreach and prevention program for high-risk communities in the Twin Cities.

The National Task Force on Hepatitis B for AAPI, is a national organization that brings together scientists, health professionals, non-profit organizations, and concerned citizens in a concerted effort to eliminate the transmission of hepatitis B and to decrease health disparities among those chronically infected. The Task Force is recognized for increasing physicians’ awareness about hepatitis B and launching a new health care provider program, bringing together public health and health care professionals in regional meetings around the country. The Health Education for Liver Providers (H.E.L.P.) Training Program is designed to provide health care providers and their medical team core medical knowledge of hepatitis B and hepatitis C.

Read the summit press release here.

More pictures of the summit can be found on HBU’s Facebook album, Storify, and e-newsletter.

To read about the Hep B United 2016 Summit from last year, click here.

Celebrate Father’s Day By Protecting Your and Your Family’s Health — Get Tested for Hepatitis B

William and his family.
William and his family. Click here to watch his story.

By Christine Kukka

After our daughter was diagnosed with chronic hepatitis B 20 years ago, my doctor explained that every household member, including my husband, had to be tested for the liver infection that’s transmitted by direct contact with blood and body fluids. ASAP.

The good news was my daughter was healthy and had no signs of liver damage, but my husband and I were shaken to the core by her diagnosis. Weighed down by worry and ignorance, I feared we might all be infected and faced a death sentence.

I drove out to my husband’s work and we went for a walk. I explained what the doctor had said and explained he had to get tested. It was one of those moments when fear and denial play out over the course of a conversation. Like everyone, he was afraid to get tested. He felt fine, at first he didn’t want to know whether he was infected. For a few moments, he thought ignorance might be less painful than finding out he had hepatitis B.

And, as in most families, this disclosure wasn’t easy. He had children from his first marriage who were with us every weekend and they had to be tested too. He would have to share this information with his former wife. This disclosure was going to upend two households. After a few minutes of waffling and processing, he did what courageous fathers do. He got tested and made sure his children were tested too.

Poster-GetTested_SuperDad-2-235x300The news was all good. His children had been immunized and were fine, he was not infected and was immediately immunized. Today, we are all doing fine, including our daughter.

Every father’s day, I think about that moment, when my husband refused to  retreat into denial, and put his family’s health ahead of his initial impulse to hide from a frightening and messy situation. It is what being a good father is all about, and it takes courage.

For another story about hepatitis B and fatherhood, please view the Storyteller video featuring William’s Story: #justB Dad by clicking here.  

Excited by the impending birth of his first child, William decided to plan for his family’s financial future. He was shocked to learn through a required health insurance blood test that he had hepatitis B. He spent sleepless nights wondering how he contracted the virus and whether it was a death sentence. After wading through dense layers of information online, he went in for more tests and was reassured by a caring provider that with monitoring, dietary changes and an active lifestyle, he would live a long life.

He realized that knowing where hepatitis B came from isn’t as important as focusing on staying healthy.

The CDC offers short video clips that feature a conversation between a daughter and her parents, with the daughter explaining why Asian-Americans should be tested for hepatitis B in English, Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese and Korean. A high percentage of Asian and African immigrants have hepatitis B, but most don’t know they are infected. To view these clips, visit: http://www.cdc.gov/knowhepatitisb/materials.htm

Ten Things Women and Mothers Can Do to Combat Hepatitis B

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

By Christine Kukka

Don’t know your hepatitis B status? Get tested. An estimated 75 percent of people with chronic hepatitis B don’t know they’re infected. Unfortunately, many doctors won’t test you for hepatitis B unless you request the test. If you or your parents come from a country with high rates of hepatitis B, or if you’ve been sexually active or have other risk factors , get tested. It could save your life.

Get tested for sexually-transmitted infections (STIs). More than half of us will have an STI in our lifetime, and in the U.S. about half of new hepatitis B infections are sexually-transmitted. Many doctors don’t test for STIs. In a national survey of U.S. physicians, fewer than one-third routinely screened patients for STIs. To make matters worse, many women are afraid to talk to doctors about their sexual history and STI risk. Be brave, ask your doctor to test you for STIs and hepatitis B if you think you are at risk.

Photo by Amanda Mills of CDC.
Photo by Amanda Mills of CDC.

Get immunized against hepatitis B. Not sure if you’ve been immunized during childhood? Tell your healthcare provider and get tested and immunized. Even you were vaccinated in the past, getting a second vaccine series won’t harm you. If your partner has hepatitis B, getting vaccinated is critical to protect your health. Practice safe sex until you have received all three shots. About one to two months after your third shot, get tested for the hepatitis B surface antibody (called titers). If you have at least 10 mIU/mL of surface antibodies, you are permanently protected against this serious liver disease.

Infected? In Love? Disclose. When you disclose your hepatitis B status before sex – even if it’s safe sex with a condom – you don’t jeopardize your partner’s health or his/her trust in you. Talking about hepatitis B helps reduce the stigma surrounding this infection and may prompt the person to get vaccinated. How do you tell a potential partner that you have hepatitis B? Calmly and carefully. Do some research so you have a thorough understanding about hepatitis B, which will make it easier for you to calmly explain it. The more you know, the less you fear, and the more comfortable you will be in dispelling their fears and conveying a sense of truth and integrity.

Insist on sterile medical and tattoo equipment. Hepatitis B can live for several days on hard surfaces, including improperly-sterilized and re-used syringes and other medical devices. Whether you’re going for a tattoo or to a dentist or doctor’s office, it is your right to insist that all equipment is brand new (ask to see it removed from protective packaging) and properly sterilized. Visit a licensed, professional tattoo parlor and make sure all tattoo equipment has been sterilized and that needles come out of new packages.

Image courtesy of patrisyu at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of patrisyu at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Infected and pregnant? Protect your baby from hepatitis B.

  • Make sure your newborn gets the hepatitis B vaccine within 12 hours of birth. Nearly all hepatitis B-infected women will pass the infection onto their children during delivery, but you can stop that infection cycle. In about 90 percent of cases, immediate immunization will prevent infection. In some countries, it may be difficult to get just the single hepatitis B vaccine dose, but if you are able to immunize your baby at birth, you will have protected your child against a potentially dangerous liver disease. If you live in an area where HBIG (hepatitis B antibodies) is available, make sure your newborn is also given a dose of HBIG at birth, this adds another layer of protection against infection.
  • Get your viral load (HBV DNA) tested early in your pregnancy. Some women with high viral loads (exceeding 200,000 IU/mL or 1 million copies/mL) are at high risk of infecting their newborns, even if the baby receives the first vaccine dose within 12 hours of birth. Ask your doctor to test your viral load, if it’s high, medical guidelines recommend treatment with the antiviral tenofovir during the last three months of your pregnancy to lower your viral load. If you doctor doesn’t test your viral load, be assertive and ask for the test.
  • Breastfeeding is OK, even if you have hepatitis B. If you’re infected with hepatitis B, you can safely breastfeed your baby, as long as the baby was vaccinated against hepatitis B at birth.
Maureen and her two daughters
Maureen and her two daughters

Your children infected? Don’t wait to start talking to them about hepatitis B. You need to start talking to them about germs and how to keep themselves and others safe when they’re young. (Listen to Jin’s Story #justB You about growing up with hepatitis B.) This conversation will be one of the hardest discussions you will ever have with your child, and you’ll be talking about it often in the years ahead, but you can do it!

To hear how other mothers handled talking about hepatitis B with their children, visit our Storytelling page and click on Maureen’s Story #justB Brave  and Maureen K’s Story #just B Assertive  to hear how these mothers navigated issues of disclosure and stigma with their daughters.

 Talk to your children about sex and safe sex practices. It’s critical to educate young people about sexual health and STIs. If we want our sons and daughters to feel empowered to take care of their sexual health, we have to change the culture that dictates the way we talk – or don’t talk – about sex. That means removing denial, uncertainty and shame so we have better conversations about sexual health, sexual assault prevention and STIs. It’s also important to encourage our children to have frank sexual health discussions with one another.

Take care of your health, get monitored regularly: It is important to get your hepatitis B monitored regularly – at least every year and more often if you have liver damage. Women living with hepatitis B tend to have lower rates of liver damage than men because estrogen appears to help protect the liver. But even if we lead a healthy lifestyle and avoid alcohol and cigarettes, as we age our immune system weakens and our viral load (HBV DNA) can start to rise. There is no cure yet for hepatitis B, but there are effective drugs that lower viral load and reduce the risk of liver damage.

Renseley and her husband.
Renseley and her husband.

Be happy. A mother or woman who is well rested, enjoys a healthy diet, gets plenty of exercise, has good relationships with friends and family members and knows how to ask for help when she needs it, is far better equipped to be happy and be the best mother she can be. It isn’t selfish to take care of yourself. Tough times happen, and sometimes a friend or family member may need us, and we will need to be strong during difficult times. If we take care of ourselves and ask for help, in the long run happiness will prevail. For a profile in joy and courage while fighting hepatitis B in her family, watch Renseley’s Story #justB Strong.

The Hepatitis B Foundation recently launched its storytelling campaign, sharing the stories of people affected by hepatitis B. Join a Twitter interview including Maureen K, parent of a daughter with hepatitis B, at 2 p.m. (EST), Tuesday, May 16, hosted by the Hepatitis B Foundation and StoryCenter. Click here for more information.

Valentine’s Day Advice for Those Looking for Love While Living with Hepatitis B

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

By Christine Kukka

Valentine’s Day celebrates love and romance, but when you have hepatitis B, you may fear dating could lead to rejection and heartbreak.

Alright, so you had a few unhappy dating experiences because of hepatitis B … believe me, you’re better off without those people. If hepatitis B hadn’t ended the relationship, it would have been some other issue.

Here are two pieces of valuable advice for those looking for love while living with hepatitis B.

A leader of the Hepatitis B Information and Support email list recently offered this sage counsel to members who feared they would never date, marry or have children because of their hepatitis B.

“As the list mom and a divorced woman who has been dating for the last eight years, I have personal experience with this topic. I have to remind you, having chronic hepatitis B does NOT have to create a barrier to dating. If anything, it can help you determine who is a good partner and will possibly be there for you in the long-term.

Image courtesy of Graphics Mouse at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Image courtesy of Graphics Mouse at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

“Also, and this is the biggie, there is a VACCINE for hepatitis B. If you meet someone you want to have an intimate relationship with, they can be vaccinated (some already are!)

“There is no reason to feel as if you are inferior or less deserving of love because of your hepatitis B.  We all want and need acceptance. The only barrier is what you have built in your mind.

“Personally, I have been in three long-term relationships since my divorce.  I am currently in a loving relationship with a man who cares about me deeply and has no issues with my hepatitis B.

“A word of wisdom from a friend has stuck with me. If someone loves you, they will care about YOUR heath, and make room for ways to keep you in their life.

“Don’t wall yourself off from the experiences of meeting new people and potential love and partnership with another soul.  Life is too short to be afraid of getting hurt.  You ‘will’ get hurt, and you WILL get back up to live another day and love again. The risk of rejection is worth the reward.

Disclose, before it’s too late.

When you disclose your hepatitis B status before sex – even if it’s safe sex with a condom – we don’t jeopardize our partner’s health or their trust in us. Talking about hepatitis B helps reduce the stigma surrounding this infection and may even prompt the person to get vaccinated.

So how do we tell a potential partner that we have hepatitis B? Calmly and carefully. Here is one way to initiate disclosure: “Before we become intimate, we need to talk about STIs and contraception. The reason I’m bringing this up is that I have hepatitis B. You need to know that, and we need to decide how to protect ourselves… ”

Do some research. Having a thorough understanding about hepatitis B can make it easier for you to explain it to a potential partner. The more you know, the less you fear, and the more comfortable you will be in dispelling their fears and conveying a sense of truth and integrity.

Image courtesy of radnatt at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Image courtesy of radnatt at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Here are some tips from the American Sexual Health Association for disclosing a sexually-transmitted infection.

  1.  Pick a time when both of you will be in reasonably good moods and relaxed for this conversation. Choose a place with few, if any, distractions.
  2.  Start out on a positive note (“I’m really happy with our relationship…”). This will put them in a positive mindset, and they may respond more agreeably than if you start out saying something like, “I have some really, really bad news… “
  3.  Your delivery can influence their reaction to what you say. If you talk calmly about hepatitis B, they may respond similarly. If you act like it’s the end of the world, they might agree that it is.
  4.  Allow a conversation to take place, rather than doing all of the talking yourself.

Disclosure is the right and ethical thing to do. How they respond is out of your control, but their response might just surprise you.

A Valuable Tool Against Chronic Hepatitis B Goes Unused in Many Developing Countries

Image courtesy of tuelekza at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Image courtesy of tuelekza at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

By Christine Kukka

A critical tool that stops the spread of nearly half of all new chronic hepatitis B infections is still unavailable in many developing countries – the hepatitis B vaccine birth dose.

When the hepatitis B vaccine is immediately administered to a baby born to a hepatitis B-infected mother, it stops the terrible spread of hepatitis B to a new generation.

But this vaccine remains unavailable and financially out-of-reach for many parents in rural areas of Africa, Asia and other regions.

“In Ghana, even if parents know where to find the vaccine, the cost sometimes deters them from accessing it,” said Theobald Owusu-Ansah of the Hepatitis B Foundation of Ghana.   “And when midwives help mothers deliver their babies in their homes, they do not have the vaccine with them because it must be refrigerated.”

While a global childhood immunization program, sponsored by the global vaccine alliance GAVI, has saved millions of lives, the hepatitis B birth dose remains a critical, missing piece of its otherwise successful global immunization strategy.

Image courtesy of africa at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Image courtesy of africa at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

To effectively prevent mother-to-child (perinatal) transmission of hepatitis B, the single-dose hepatitis B vaccine must be administered within 12 to 24* hours of birth. In about 90 percent of cases, this vaccine effectively prevents infection, unless the mother’s viral load is extremely high.**

Today, GAVI funds and promotes the pentavalent vaccine, which prevents five diseases including hepatitis B, for nearly all children in developing countries. But here’s the catch, the earliest the first dose of the pentavalent vaccine can be administered is six weeks of age because it contains the diphtheria vaccine. This is far too late to prevent perinatal hepatitis B infection.

GAVI’s pentavalent vaccine makes economic and medical sense. One vaccine that prevents several diseases lowers manufacturing and shipping costs and requires fewer injections. Indeed, widespread immunization with GAVI’s pentavalent vaccine in 73 developing countries has prevented 7 million deaths, but it doesn’t prevent chronic hepatitis B acquired at birth.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has made eradication of hepatitis B by 2030 a major goal, but it is unattainable unless perinatal infection is prevented.

Without GAVI’s financing or promotion of the hepatitis B birth dose, many developing countries have done little to promote the birth dose, despite their high rates of hepatitis B. According to the WHO, in 2015, 8.4 million babies were born in African countries that did not provide the birth dose of the hepatitis B vaccine.

In addition to a lack of political will on the part of GAVI and these countries, there are other barriers to distributing the hepatitis B birth vaccine. As Owusu-Ansah explained, about one-third of births in his native Ghana  and about 45 percent of all births in Africa take place without a healthcare worker or midwife present.

Volunteers from the Rann India Foundation teach villagers about hepatitis B testing and prevention in India.
Volunteers from the Rann India Foundation teach villagers about hepatitis B testing and prevention in India.

Suren Surender, founder and president of the Rann Bhoomi Foundation, which educates rural villagers in India about hepatitis B prevention, added that even when healthcare workers are present at childbirths, “there is a lack of knowledge about birth dose administration and there is also a lack of community awareness about the benefits of getting the birth dose.”

Having a global leader like GAVI lend financial and strategic support for the hepatitis B birth vaccine would go far to chip away at these high perinatal infection rates in rural regions. In 2013, GAVI and the global vaccine alliance explored funding the hepatitis B birth dose as part of its Vaccine Investment Strategy (VIS),  but officials decided not to fund it.

According to a GAVI spokeswoman, the key deterrent was implementation — getting the refrigerated vaccine birth dose to rural areas within hours of a child’s birth – rather than cost.

“Many births in GAVI-supported countries do occur outside health facilities,” she noted. “Indeed, coverage of hepatitis B birth dose in many countries delivering this intervention is low. Ultimately, the Vaccine Investment Strategy analysis and consultations recommended that (GAVI) should focus its limited resources on other high-impact vaccines at the time.”

However, research suggests the hepatitis B vaccine may be effective for several days or weeks in warm climates without refrigeration, which could increase their use in rural regions if there was more financial and political support.

In 2018, GAVI will reconsider potential support for the hepatitis B birth dose when it develops a new Vaccine Investment Strategy, with a decision expected in late 2018.

GAVI’s support for the birth vaccine is needed immediately. Only GAVI has the resources and political clout to help countries realign their immunization policies to allow the next generation of children born to hepatitis B-infected parents to live without liver disease.

*North American medical guidelines recommend the first hepatitis B vaccine dose be administered within 12 hours of birth, while WHO recommends the vaccine be given within 24 hours of birth.

**The addition of a dose of HBIG (hepatitis B antibodies) along with the vaccine raises the prevention rate a few percentage points. However, the vaccine alone is highly effective.