Hep B Blog

Category Archives: Hepatitis B Diagnosis & Monitoring

It’s Flu Season! Did you get your shot?

Flu season is upon us! It usually ranges from the winter into early spring. It’s important that you get your flu shot, especially if you or a family member has a chronic disease such as hepatitis B.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get the flu vaccine every year. Flu viruses change constantly from season to season and can even mutate during a single flu season. It takes 2 weeks for antibodies to develop, so get your flu shot today!

There are some people who cannot get the flu shot, including certain age groups, those with health complications, and those with allergies. However, there are still ways people can protect against getting sick. Be sure to wash your hands to prevent the spread of germs. If you feel you are sick, stay home from work or school.

While we all know antiviral drugs are effective against the hepatitis B virus, researchers have also developed antivirals that can help us fight the flu once it is confirmed someone are infected. People at high risk of serious flu complications (such as children younger than 2 years, adults 65 and older, pregnant women, and people with chronic hepatitis B) and people who simply get very sick with the flu should talk to their doctor about getting one of three available flu antiviral drugs–oseltamivir, zanamivir, or peramivir.

According to CDC, prompt treatment with a flu antiviral can mean the difference between having a mild case versus a very serious one that can potentially land you in the hospital.

Treatment with antivirals works best when begun within 48 hours of getting sick, but can still help if administered later during your illness. Antivirals are effective in all age and risk groups. Studies show some doctors do not prescribe antiviral drugs to people at high risk of complications from the flu, so be assertive and ask your doctor for them if you have the flu!

It’s time to get your flu shot! It will help you, your family, and friends get protected against the flu. To find out where you can get a flu shot, click here.

For more information about hepatitis B and the flu vaccine, check out our previous posts on the flu here, here, and here.

HIV/HBV Co-Infection

World AIDS Day was last Friday, December 1st. It is a day dedicated to raising awareness about HIV and AIDS. However, it is also a great opportunity to discuss the possibility of coinfection with hepatitis B virus, HBV.

 Dr. John Ward, MD, Director, Division of Viral Hepatitis, CDC talks about hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV epidemics in the United States.

Hepatitis B (HBV) and HIV/AIDs have similar modes of transmission. They can be transmitted through direct contact with blood, or sexual transmission (both heterosexual and MSM). Unfortunately, people who are high risk for HIV are also at risk for HBV, though hepatitis B is 50-100 times more infectious than HIV. Fortunately hepatitis B is a vaccine preventable disease and the vaccine is recommended for individuals living with chronic HIV.

Nearly one third of people who are infected with HIV are also infected with hepatitis B or hepatitis C (HCV).2 To break down the numbers further, about 10% of people with HIV also have hepatitis B, and about  25% of people with HIV also have hepatitis C.2 Liver complications due to HBV and HCV infections have become the most common non-AIDS-related cause of death for people who are HIV-positive.3

Who is at risk of HIV and HBV co-infection? Because both infections have similar transmission routes, injection drug use and unprotected sex (sex without condoms) are risk factors for both infections.4 However, there are additional risk factors for HIV and  for HBV that put people at risk4

It is important that people who are at risk of both diseases are tested! HIV-positive people who are exposed to HBV are more likely to develop a chronic HBV infection and other liver associated complications, such as liver-related morbidity and mortality if they are infected with HBV.1

If a person is co-infected with both HBV and HIV, management of both diseases can be complicated, so a visit to the appropriate specialists is vital.3 Some anti-retrovirals, which are usually prescribed to treat HIV, can eventually lead to antiviral resistance or liver-associated problems.3 One or both infections will require treatment and must be carefully managed.  Treatment differs from person to person .4

It is also important to hear about the perspectives of those who are living with co-infections. As a part of our #justB: Real People Sharing their Stories of Hepatitis B storytelling campaign, Jason shares his experience of living with both hepatitis B and HIV/AIDs.

To learn more about HIV and viral hepatitis coinfection, go here. For more #justB videos, go here.

References:

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2017, Sept). HIV/AIDS and Viral Hepatitis. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/populations/hiv.htm
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2017, June). HIV and Viral Hepatitis. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/pdf/library/factsheets/hiv-viral-hepatitis.pdf
  3. Weibaum, C.M., Williams, I., Mast, E.E., Wang, S.A., Finelli, L., Wasley, A., Neitzel, S.M, & Ward, J.W. (2008). Recommendations forMorbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), 57(RR08), 1-20. Retrieved from: Identification and Public Health Management of Persons with Chronic Hepatitis B Infection. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5708a1.htm

Sharing Your Story – Your Family’s Story

Sharing Your Story – Your Family’s Story

Image courtesy of Good Free Photos

Thanksgiving is not only a day to eat turkey or remind us to remember what we are thankful for; it is also National Family History Day!!1 This holiday can be used an opportunity for families to discuss and record health problems that run through the family, as this helps us live longer and healthier. 1

There are many chronic diseases that may run through multiple generations of a family. 1 Doctors can predict whether or not you could have a chronic disease just by knowing if your parents, grandparents, and other relatives have had it. 1 That is why knowing your family health history is an important and powerful screening tool.1 You can change unhealthy behaviors, reduce your risk of diseases, and know when you should be screened when you learn about what diseases run through your family. 2

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Hepatitis B is not like other chronic diseases, where if your parents have it, your genes make you more prone to it. Hepatitis B is not genetic. The hepatitis B virus is transmitted through blood and infected body fluids. This can happen through direct blood-to-blood contact, unprotected sex, body piercings or tattooing, intravenous drug use, and as a result of unsafe medical or dental procedures. It can also be transmitted from an hepatitis B positive mother to her baby at birth.

Even though hepatitis B is not genetic, you should still include it in your family health history discussion! The most common method of hepatitis B transmission worldwide is from mother-to-child due to the blood exchange that happens during child birth. Pregnant women who are infected with hepatitis B can transmit the virus to their newborns during delivery. 90% of babies exposed to hepatitis B at birth will become chronically infected with hepatitis B, which increases their risk of serious liver disease later in life. Knowing your family’s hepatitis B history can help you figure out if you and other loved ones should get screened for or vaccinated to protect against hepatitis B.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Knowing if you have a family history of liver cancer can also be important, since hepatitis B is one of the leading causes of liver cancer. If your family has a history of hepatitis B related liver cancer, then you may have a greater risk of developing liver damage or liver cancer if you have hepatitis B. Be sure to discuss a family history of liver cancer with your liver specialist.

If you need some advice on how to start the conversation about your family health history, read more here. You can also use the US Department of Health & Human Services’s My Family Health Portrait Web tool to help start this dialogue and learn how to share family history information at a future doctor visit.

You don’t need to wait until this Thanksgiving to talk about your family health history. You can talk to your family about your family health history and hepatitis B status RIGHT NOW!

References:

  1. https://www.hhs.gov/programs/prevention-and-wellness/family-health-history/about-family-health-history/index.html
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/genomics/famhistory/famhist_basics.htm

 

 

Diagnosing Hepatitis Delta in the U.S.

Robert Gish, MD

David Hillyard, MD

Hepatitis D, or hepatitis delta, is the most severe form of viral hepatitis known to humans. The hepatitis D virus infects the liver and is dependent on the hepatitis B virus to reproduce. This means that people who are already infected with hepatitis B are at risk of contracting hepatitis D as well.

Worldwide, more than 257 million people live with hepatitis B and of this number, an estimated 15-20 million are also infected with the hepatitis delta virus (HDV). While uncommon in the United States, HDV co-infection is more common in parts of the world such as China, Russia, Middle East, Mongolia, Romania, Georgia, Turkey, Pakistan, Africa, and the Amazonian river basin. For this reason, it is important to test hepatitis B patients who originate from these higher endemic areas for hepatitis D. Anyone with chronic hepatitis B who is not responding to antiviral treatment, or who has signs of liver damage even though they have a low viral load (HBV DNA below 2,000 IU/mL) should also be tested. Fatty liver disease (caused by obesity) and liver damage from alcohol or environmental toxins should be ruled out as causes of liver damage before testing for HDV.  Hepatitis D infections lead to more serious liver disease than hepatitis B infection alone. It is associated with faster progression to liver fibrosis, increased risk of liver cancer, and early decompensated cirrhosis and liver failure. This is why it is so important that people with hepatitis B and D coinfection are diagnosed before it can lead to severe complications.

Robert Gish, MD, Hepatitis B Foundation Medical Director, and David Hillyard, MD, Medical Director, Molecular Infectious Diseases, ARUP Laboratories, tackled the topic of diagnosing hepatitis D in a webinar in October. Dr. Gish also answered additional questions, which are featured below:

  • What is the first step in diagnosing an HDV patient?

The HDV antibody test (anti-HDV) is the first test that is run to see if a patient has been infected with hepatitis delta. Because this test will be positive even if a patient has cleared a hepatitis delta infection, it is followed up with an HDV RNA test, which determines an active infection. There is also an antibody test (anti-HDV igM) that can test for an acute active infection.

  • Are there tests available in the US that can detect the HDV genotypes or just genotype I?

Although there have been 8 genotypes of HDV identified, each with their own distinct progression outcomes, genotype testing in the US remains rare and often difficult to acquire.

  • What is the role of measuring HDV RNA in monitoring chronic HDV progression or response to treatment?

The most effective way to understand the progression of a hepatitis D infection is to use liver ultrasounds, elastrography and fibroscans. These tests can evaluate the health of the liver. Declining HDV RNA level usually indicates a positive response to treatment.

  • Is there value to testing patients for a disease for which there are not many treatments?

Because patients who are coinfected with B and D have twice the risk of cirrhosis and liver cancer compared to monoinfected patients, it is an important diagnosis to make. Although there is currently only 1 treatment, lives are still being saved.

  • Should primary care providers be testing high-risk patients for HBV and HDV at the same time?

No, providers should only test patients who already have hepatitis B. One in twenty people with hepatitis B are thought to also be infected with hepatitis D. Bottom line: testing for hepatitis D is a simple blood test that could change the course of treatment and save your patient’s life!

If you do find out that you have hepatitis D, it can be overwhelming and scary. However, knowing the basics can help you manage your diagnosis. Through the Hepatitis B Foundation’s Hep Delta Connect program, you can get information on how to protect your loved ones, find a physician, and seek out support.

For more information, please click here or visit our Hepatitis Delta Connect program website. Please also contact Sierra Pellechio, the Program Manager for Hepatitis Delta Connect program at sierra.pellechio@hepb.org for any questions.

Navigating Our Emotions When We’re First Diagnosed with Hepatitis B

Image courtesy of Pixabay

When we’re first diagnosed with hepatitis B, our physical health isn’t the only thing we need to focus on. Many of us experience powerful surges of fear, anger, sadness, powerlessness, depression, and anxiety.

No matter what you’re feeling, you have a right to feel whatever emotions are welling up – sometimes unexpectedly – inside you. There are no right or wrong feelings, they just are, and it’s up to you to decide what choices you make and how to respond to them.

When my daughter was first diagnosed, she was a toddler and happened to be coming down with a cold. I knew nothing about hepatitis B and was convinced she would soon die from it given her crankiness, lethargy, and nonstop sleeping.

Within a day or two, she was her smiling, energetic self again, and I happily slipped into denial. Surely the test was wrong or there was a mix-up in the result. My husband dragged his feet for weeks before he agreed to be screened for hepatitis B so great was his denial and fear.

Denial is a normal first reaction, it can give us some  breathing room to get used to the idea that we’re infected. But denial can also be dangerous, especially if we’re in a sexual relationship with someone and don’t take precautions. Denial can be dangerous when we hide our infection and don’t tell our family members or partners, even though they may have been exposed. Denial is dangerous when we don’t tell our parents, who may not know they’re infected and unknowingly passed the virus to us at birth.

It’s important to talk out our feelings with a doctor, a therapist, or a friend you trust. We need to move through denial so we can begin to receive the care and support we need, and talk to others who may also be at risk.

Anger is another common and natural feeling after a diagnosis. It’s OK to get upset about how we or our family members were infected, or get angry that our parents or lovers didn’t know they had the virus and infected us. Try to talk about your anger with counselors or friends, get some exercise to work off your tension and avoid situations—including drugs or alcohol—that can ignite festering emotions.

It’s normal to feel sad, and sometimes the sadness doesn’t go away quickly. If you feel prolonged sadness, anxiety, or fear, or find you’re gaining or losing weight or sleeping more or less than usual, it’s time to talk to someone who can help.

Fear and anxiety are common because we don’t know what’s going to happen next. If you’ve just been diagnosed, you may have to wait six months for another test to show whether you were recently infected and have acute (short-term) or were infected as a child and have chronic (long-term) hepatitis B. That wait can be insufferable.

Our stress can cause a host of physical symptoms, ranging from headaches to fatigue, that may have nothing to do with hepatitis B. It’s important to talk to your doctor about these symptoms so you know what is hepatitis B-related, and what’s caused by worry and fears.

At this early stage, many of us want to get rid of the virus as soon as possible and we’re willing to try any supplement or treatment available, even if our doctors tell us we’re healthy and don’t need any treatment. At this early diagnosis point, we just need to take care of ourselves, eat healthy foods, avoid alcohol and cigarettes, and get monitored regularly, even though what we really want is a magic pill that will make this infection go away.

In normal grief cycles, there is a point of acceptance. But I’m not sure we totally ever accept this loss of our “perfect” health, and our ability to have sexual relations, give birth, or drink a glass of wine without thinking of the shadow hepatitis B casts over these activities.

As a wise friend has pointed out, we need to accept that hepatitis B is part of us, but it doesn’t have to define us. Perhaps getting to that realization is the journey we begin when we read that first lab report and hear the diagnosis.

For support and information from other people living with hepatitis B, join the Hepatitis B Information and Support Email List at  http://hblist.net

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.

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

Diagnosed With Hepatitis B? Symptoms? Learning the HBV Basics

The tricky part about hepatitis B symptoms is that there are often no symptoms. That is why hepatitis B is referred to as a “silent infection”. This can be a little confusing to people newly diagnosed with HBV – whether it is determined you have an acute or chronic infection.

If you have a new, acute infection, there is a good chance you will be one of the roughly 69% with no notable symptoms. You may feel a little under-the-weather or a little more tired then usual, or you may notice no difference at all. You may learn about your infection through blood work following a possible exposure, or following screening from a blood donation. Since 90% of adults infected with hepatitis B will clear the infection – most with no medical intervention, it is possible for you to be infected, clear the virus, and never even know until blood work shows evidence of a past infection.

Then again you may be one of the roughly 30% who do have symptoms. You may experience flu-like symptoms such as achy muscles and joints, a low-grade fever and fatigue. Because your liver plays a role in digestion, you may experience a loss of appetite, feel a little nauseous, or experience pain in the upper right quadrant of your abdomen. You may have dark, tea colored urine. Then again, these symptoms may not be so severe that you take much notice. It’s okay, because these symptoms typically do not require treatment. However, if you are symptomatic, or you are concerned, please see your doctor, so blood tests can be run to be sure your liver is safe.

Here are the important symptoms that you need to have checked-out immediately: jaundice, severe nausea and vomiting, and bloating or swelling of the abdomen. If you have any of these symptoms, you need to seek immediate medical attention. Your doctor will want to run blood work, which will likely need to be repeated while you are symptomatic and as you recover, to monitor your condition and be sure you are safe. At this time, your doctor will determine the next steps –perhaps you will need to be admitted to the hospital for fluids and observation if you are severely dehydrated, or more likely, you’ll recover at home with regular lab work and follow-up with your doctor.

If you notice that your skin or the whites of your eyes are yellow, then you are suffering from jaundice. This is due to a build-up of bilirubin in the blood and tissues. Your liver is an amazing organ and one of its responsibilities is the filtering out of your body’s bi-products or other toxins from your blood, maintaining them at healthy levels. Jaundice is very unsettling to those that have it because it is noticeable by others. Normal coloring will return once the body is able to rid itself of the buildup of these toxins.

Although rare, (approximately 1%) acute hepatitis B can result in life-threatening, fulminant hepatitis, which can lead to liver failure. Fulminant hepatitis requires immediate medical attention.

The other possibility is that you are actually chronically infected, and that your infection is not new. You may have been living with HBV since birth or early childhood. Your hepatitis B infection may be a complete surprise to you.  You might ask, “How could I have this infection all of these years and not even know it?” Once again, HBV is a silent infection.  For those chronically infected, obvious symptoms may not occur for decades. The liver is a hard-working, non-complaining organ, but you don’t want to ignore your HBV and put yourself at increased risk for cirrhosis, liver failure or liver cancer. Believe it or not, the sooner you learn about your HBV infection, the better, so that you get regular monitoring, seek treatment if necessary, and make lifestyle changes that are good for your liver and overall health.

Whether you have symptoms or not, there are a few things you need to remember. You must go back to your doctor for further lab work to determine if your HBV infection is acute or chronic. If you are still surface antigen positive (HBsAg+) after 6 months, then you have a chronic infection and need to see a liver specialist to learn more about your hepatitis B infection. The other thing you must do is take precautions so you do not transmit hepatitis B to sexual partners and close household contacts.  And finally, be sure to take care of your liver by eating a well-balanced diet, avoiding alcohol, and talk to your doctor or pharmacist about prescriptions or OTC drugs that may be hard on your liver.