Hep B Blog

Category Archives: Hepatitis B Diagnosis & Monitoring

Cleaning Up and Staying Safe at College

Whether you have hepatitis B or not, you will want to follow some simple clean-up rules now that you are living in a more public environment and away from home. (Take a look at the previous blog – Off to College with HBV.) Regardless of your living arrangements – dorm room, quad, or apartment, you will want to set a couple of ground rules, and be prepared for maintenance, and possible emergency spot cleaning.

Bathrooms are a breeding ground for a plethora of bacteria and viruses. They are the site of all kinds of planned and unplanned, natural and unnatural biological and human functions that produce blood, bodily fluids, and all kinds of other body by-products.  They are shared spaces where very private things occur. They are shared spaces where there’s a whole other microbial world living off of all the human activities that occur in the bathroom. That is why bathrooms should be cleaned properly and regularly.  It’s good practice and keeps everyone healthy.

Standard or universal precautions are  prevention methods that should be integrated into everyone’s life.  The whole goal is to prevent contact with an infectious agent such as HIV, HCV and HBV, assuming all possible blood or bodily fluids may be contaminated. They remind you to provide a barrier between you and any potentially contaminated blood or body fluid, whether it is in an emergency situation with a bleeding person, or the cleanup of blood or bodily fluids. It’s yet another reminder to “wash your hands”, and basically use common sense.  In the case of HBV or other infectious diseases (HCV, HIV), blood in particular may contain high concentrations of virus which could be transmitted to others through mucous membranes, orifices, or microscopic cuts in the skin.  HBV is a tenacious virus and can live outside the body for seven days. Fortunately, HBV is vaccine preventable.

If you live in a dorm, with shared, floor bathrooms, they should be cleaned and maintained by the janitorial staff. However, it’s good to be prepared for an emergency spill in your room, or the bathroom at odd hours. If you live in a quad or apartment with others, you’ll want to be sure to set up a chore chart so that common areas like bathrooms and kitchens are properly cleaned, and that trash is regularly disposed.  If you don’t set the ground rules from the start there are bound to be hard feelings among your roommates.

Weekly bathroom maintenance should include the disinfection of surfaces on toilets, sinks and showers.  The general rule is clean first and then disinfect.  This does take some time since the bathroom cleaner is first sprayed and allowed to sit for at least 30 seconds (times will vary with the disinfectant or depending on your source), and then cleaned with towels, (to be disposed, or laundered separately in hot water with detergent and a little bleach) and then disinfected with the same cleaner and allowed to sit for at least five minutes, and then finally wiped down again with clean towels.  Don’t know how many housekeepers follow this rule of thumb, but use common sense and think about how you use your towels as you clean from surface to surface.  In between cleanings, use disposable bleach wipes to wipe the toilet and sink, and don’t be stingy with them.

Keep the container of bleach wipes in plain sight so visitors have the option to wipe the toilet, sink, or clean up after an accident – hopefully not with the same wipe. (You may find it interesting to note that the sink is often the greatest source of bacteria…a moist environment with plenty of microbial snacks including skin flakes and other organic fodder) Don’t forget to put out a container of liquid soap to encourage hand washing, and if you are a female at college, be sure that all used feminine hygiene products are carefully disposed of in plastic bags.

When it comes to cleaning up a blood or body fluid spill, it is essential to follow the rules.  All blood should be considered contaminated with an infectious agent such as HCV, HIV or HBV.  If you are assisting your friend or roommate in the case of an emergency, be sure you have a barrier between you and your bleeding friend – of course this is after you have called 911 if this is a true emergency..  Disposable gloves are perfect, but in a pinch, put plastic bags on your hands, or use a clean sanitary pad, or bunch of towels (paper or cloth) to staunch the flow of blood.  When you are finished with the emergency, dispose of contaminated articles and thoroughly wash your hands with soap and warm water before progressing to the cleanup.  Hopefully your roommate will be able to clean up his own spill, but it’s possible he’ll need some help.

Bleach is a wonderful disinfectant, and effectively kills HBV, and other pathogens.  Don your disposable gloves, and  prepare a fresh bleach solution for the cleanup that is one part bleach to nine parts cool water.  Use a fresh solution as the potency of the solution quickly diminishes, and do not use hot water.  Remember the proper order – clean, then disinfect.  When cleaning a surface that is known to contain a potential contaminant (blood or bodily fluid), spray it with the bleach solution and let it sit for a few minutes.   While wearing gloves, cleanup the spill with disposable rags or paper towels.  Dispose of the contaminated towels, and gloves.  Don a new pair of gloves and once again spray the area.  Let is sit and disinfect for at least 10 minutes and wipe again with clean towels.  Dispose of contaminated towels and gloves in a seal-able plastic bag.

If you are in a dorm shared-bathroom, it’s possible to walk into a mess you choose not to clean up, but be sure to alert floor mates of the contaminated area with a sign so others are not accidentally exposed to the potential contaminant, and to alert the janitorial staff of the spill.   It’s a courtesy, but it also keeps everyone safe.

There are also EPA registered disinfectants that are premixed and kill infectious diseases, but be sure that HBV is specifically listed as it is a more difficult virus to kill.  The times to soak and disinfect vary with each product, and the times I found for basic disinfection varied in my research, so when you’re making the effort, be sure to take the extra time to ensure you have killed all possible contaminants.  These pre-mixed disinfectants are more convenient, but they are also more expensive, and you need to check the dates to ensure they remain effective and have not expired.

Here are list of supplies to have on hand for your room or apartment that specifically relate to blood and body fluid cleanups:

  • 1 small bottle of bleach
  • 1 squirt bottle (pre-marked with a sharpie to denote bleach and water quantities.. 1 part bleach to 9 parts cool water)
  • Box of disposable gloves
  • plastic bags – trash and sandwich bags
  • disposable towels or paper towels

You’ll need a list of other supplies if you want to keep that bathroom relatively germ free.  Don’t forget the soap and the bleach wipes!

 

Off to College With Hepatitis B

Are you ready to head off to college?  Are you concerned about your HBV status?  Here are a few things to consider…

If you live in the U.S. your roomate(s) will most likely be vaccinated for hepatitis B, so you shouldn’t need to worry about disclosure.  Later on in your relationship you can decide whether or not you want to disclose your HBV status to your roommate, other friends, or SOs.  For now it’s probably best to keep it to yourself.  Once the info is out, you cannot take it back.

If you are sexually active you will want to consider how you will handle these relationships.  HBV is spread through vaginal or anal sex so you want to be sure to practice safe sex for the benefit of both you and your partner.  Please use a condom to ensure there is no transmission of STDs and other infectious diseases.  There is a vaccine for hepatitis B, but not for HCV and HIV.  If you are living with HBV, you are well aware that you do not want an HBV coinfection with either HCV or HIV.  Coinfections are more complicated and more difficult to treat and manage.  Play it safe and use a condom.

It’s great to be on your own at college.  Days and nights learning, studying and preparing for a bright future, branching out on your own… away from mom and dad.  Quite often it’s time for a little experimentation, a little craziness, or just plain fun.

It’s a time to interact with lots of different kinds of people.  Sometimes you have control over these interactions and sometimes you don’t.  You can’t control all of these things, but you can control parts of your own little environment.

Get yourself a bag for your personal toiletries.  Whether you’re using bathroom and shower facilities on the dorm floor, living in a quad, or sharing an apartment with roommates, you’ll want to be sure to keep your personal items in a separate bag and out of sight of floor mates, roommates and visitors.

We all know that HBV and other infectious agents are transmitted via contaminated bodily fluids – especially blood, semen and vaginal fluids.  Store your razor inside your bag, and be sure you do NOT leave it in the shower stall.  Razors are an effective transmission vehicle for infectious disease like HBV or even HCV and HIV.  If you leave your razor in the shower, you cannot assume that someone else has not used it.  Throw it away and start fresh.

This goes for nail accessories like clippers, cuticle cutters or even files.  Keep them in your bag and keep them out of sight from roommates and other visitors.  Few people think twice about picking up a pair of nail clippers or a nail file.

Communal soap can be liquid or bar soap.  Don’t share any body jewelry including pierced earrings.

Don’t forget about your toothbrush.  I can still remember a friend mentioning that he had borrowed my toothbrush, after visiting.  Unfortunately he mentioned it after I had already brushed my teeth.  Disgusting!  Do you really want anyone using your toothbrush??  After the fact, it’s too late to do anything about it.  You need to be proactive to make sure these little mishaps don’t occur.  Put your personal items away and out of sight.

Then there are the visitors…  Most likely you won’t have control of everyone in and out of your room or apartment.  My college roommate and her boyfriend loved that I was organized and prepared for all scenarios.  They were constantly “borrowing” my things.  I wish I had the courage to tell my roommate’s boyfriend that I would prefer he wash my pillowcase after he borrowed my pillow, along with all of the other things he helped himself to without asking.  Keep your personal items separate, and let your roommate know that your boundaries are to be respected. Establish these boundaries up front!

Perhaps you’re worried about what others might think of your toiletries bag, or that you like your personal things respected.  Don’t tell them you’ve got HBV.  Just laugh and tell them you’re a “germaphobe”. By keeping personal items out of view and sequestered in your own bag, everyone is protected.

Be sure to read the follow-on blog: Cleaning up and Staying Safe at College. 

Raw Shellfish Warning for those with Hepatitis B

Summer is here, and it’s time for a smorgasbord of your favorite, fresh seafood.  All good, but if you have hepatitis B, you’re going to want to take precautions to ensure you don’t get sick, or even die, from the seafood that you eat.

There are a couple of variations on what is considered shellfish, but basically it includes oysters, clams, mussels, shrimp, crab, and lobster.  Oysters and clams are the only shellfish eaten raw, so they present the greatest danger.  Raw oysters are the main culprit, although all raw or undercooked shellfish from warm coastal waters, especially during the summer months, are a risk.  It’s difficult to ensure the origin of your seafood, despite labeling requirements, and whether or not it was frozen, or partially unfrozen at some time.  As a result, it’s best to treat all seafood equally.  And of course it’s not the shellfish itself, but rather a microbe called Vibrio vulnificus.  In fact this hearty microbe may exist in warm, salt-water directly, and care should be taken to avoid exposure of open wounds to potentially contaminated water.

V. vulnificus is very virulent with a 50% mortality rate.  The microbe may enter the blood stream via an open wound, or the GI tract where it may cause sepsis.  This is especially perilous for people that are immunocompromised, or have liver damage due to chronic infections such as viral hepatitis – specifically hepatitis B.  Symptoms may include fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.  It is very serious, and may lead to septic shock and death.  Septic infections are carry a high mortality rate of 50% in individuals without liver disease.  Those that are immunocompromised or suffer from liver disease are 80 to 200 times more likely to develop septicemia from V. vulnificus than those without liver disease.  Those are pretty serious odds.

Please keep in mind that this is not to be confused with basic food poisoning from “bad seafood”.  There are no visible signs of the bacterium.  Contaminated shellfish smell and taste fine.  If you believe you may have been infected, you need to seek immediate medical attention.

If you must eat shellfish, please follow precautions.  Be sure shellfish are thoroughly cooked.  Cook all oysters, clams and mussels until the shells open and continue boiling for five additional minutes.  If steaming, cook for an additional nine minutes.  Boil shucked oysters for at least three minutes, or fry them in oil for at least ten minutes at 375 degrees F.  Wear protective gloves when handling and cleaning raw shellfish, and avoid exposure to open wounds.  (This warning actually includes exposure of open wounds to infected waters, so be careful when vacationing.)  Take care to keep raw seafood and all other foods separate.  Eat when cooked, and immediately store leftovers in the fridge.

I’ve never been a fan of raw shellfish, and with my HBV awareness, I instilled a sense of fear in my children regarding raw shellfish, or any raw seafood.  If it’s got a shell – especially oysters, clams and mussels, they don’t touch it, and they gag at the sight of raw seafood.  Okay, so maybe I carried that a bit too far, but at least I can check that one off my danger list. V. Vulnificus is dangerous! If you have HBV, it would be best to avoid shellfish.

Show Your Support for World Hepatitis Day!

World Hepatitis Day is Thursday, July 28th!  Join the World Hepatitis Alliance.  The theme is “This is Hepatitis”, which is aimed at raising global awareness.  Globally, two billion people have been infected with hepatitis B, (one out of three), and 400 million live with a chronic, lifelong infection.  Although there are excellent treatments available, there is no cure for hepatitis B.  However, there is a safe and effective HBV vaccine.  If you are infected, be sure loved ones and household contacts are screened and vaccinated.  If you are not infected or not vaccinated, get vaccinated and help eliminate the spread of this virus, worldwide.

Show your support by adding a World Hepatitis Day PicBadge to your facebook and twitter profile pictures.  This makes a great visual statement.  You can also add the widget to your website or blog.  Take a look at HBF’s website, and note the slider at the top with “World Hepatitis Day”.  Check out the details on how to add the World Hepatitis Day PicBadge to your profiles and website.  Select the “add to profile picture” button.  Follow the instructions and the badge will be added to your FB and/or twitter profile pics.  (FYI.. I use hootsuite to manage my tweets, and it wasn’t initially obvious that it picked it up, but it worked fine. )  Check out HBFs FB and twitter profile pics to get an idea of how it looks.  Once you make the modifications, the PicBadge program will post the badge to your wall and tweet an invite to others to join with their support.  You can also have picbadge send a request to FB friends so they may lend their support.

On a personal note, consider sharing your story on the World Hepatitis Alliance’s “Wall of Stories”  Please feel free to share your story in your native language.  The more personal the stories, the better!

Be sure to let us know what you or your organization is up to for World Hepatitis Day!  No contribution is too small in the fight against viral hepatitis!

Fun, Fireworks, and Alcohol Consumption Over the 4th of July Holiday

Are you gearing up for the 4th of July, holiday?  Planning on a couple of days of fun, sun, fireworks, and holiday picnics and parties?  If you’re living with hepatitis B, you will want to be sure to abstain, or at a minimum, keep your alcohol consumption extremely restricted.  Some of the statistics out there linking alcohol consumption to liver disease are sobering (no pun intended), even for those that do not suffer from liver disease due to viral hepatitis.  If you have HBV, drinking just doesn’t mix with love N’ your liver.

So just how much alcohol is too much?  Like everything else, alcohol tolerances vary with the individual, so the amount will vary.  Some people, with or without HBV, may be more prone to liver disease due to contributing factors such as fatty liver disease, hemochromatosis, autoimmune hepatitis,  or hepatoxicity – exposure to certain drugs or environmental and chemical toxins causing liver scarring .   Remember that the liver is basically a very quiet, essential, non-complaining organ.

If you have HBV, you know your tolerance for alcohol is going to be nil.  Drinking will contribute to liver disease.

For healthy women who do not have hep B, 20 grams of alcohol, per day and for men without HBV,  60 grams of alcohol per day is risky business and may very well contribute to liver disease.  This equates to 60 ml. of sixty-proof liquor, or 200 ml. of wine (12% alcohol), and 500 ml of beer (5% alcohol).  A visual always works best for me:

Ouch… Even if you do not have HBV, you are risking your liver health when you drink casually, on a daily basis.  For women, this basically equates to one mixed drink, glass of wine or beer per day, while the limit for men may be three alcoholic drinks per day.

If you’ve got HBV, perhaps it’s time to eliminate alcohol from the party scene and replace it with a thirst-quenching, non-alcoholic beverage.  If not, you might consider one drink for the holiday weekend, and abstain for very l-o-n-g periods of time without alcohol.  Consider one glass of wine, occasionally, the new “binge drinking” level if you wish to best maintain your liver health.  Let’s face it:  abstinence is best if you’re really looking to limit the damage done to your liver.  There are so many toxins that our liver silently removes on a daily basis.  This is one toxin we can choose to control, and eliminate from our environment.

So, light up the sky with fireworks.  Eat your favorite, healthy foods this weekend, and make a commitment, starting this weekend, to remove alcohol from your life, and love your liver.

 

Got Hepatitis B? Share Your Favorite Liver Specialist with the HBV Community

Do you have a favorite liver specialist that you’d like to share with the Hepatitis B Foundation and friends living with HBV?  Friends with HBV live all over the globe, and we are interested in liver specialists with Hepatitis B treating experience from all over.  Pediatric patients are a special sub-population with special treating needs, too.  We’d love to hear from all of you!  Here’s what we’re looking for…

The Hepatitis B Foundation maintains a database of liver specialists that have experience treating patients with HBV.  Based on your recommendations, we would love to extend an invitation to your liver specialist to participate in our directory of liver specialists.  If your liver specialist replies, we will add his/her name to the list.

We’ve had some wonderful, new HBV friends on facebook from Africa and other continents, and we would encourage all of you to send us your liver specialist’s contact information.  Our international database is a little sparse, so we really need your input!  This would also include parents of children with HBV that are living abroad.  So, if you’ve got experience with a treating specialist that you’d like to share, you can be sure others will benefit from your advice.

Here is what the Hepatitis B Foundation needs to know:

  • Residing country
  • Adult or pediatric specialist
  • Liver specialist’s name and contact information  – including name, address, telephone number and email address (if available)
  • Anything else you’d like to share!

Email this important information to directory@hepb.org .  Please keep in mind that the information you provide is offered as a courtesy to others in the HBV community.  Your name will not be associated, and the addition of your physician does not make you responsible in any way.  This is not a physician referral service, but rather an opportunity for those living with HBV to share resources.  (Please note the disclaimer.)

Thanks to all who participate.  The entire HBV community benefits from your input!

 

Gearing up for World Hepatitis Day!

World Hepatitis Day is July 28th!  What are you doing to raise awareness and educate others about hepatitis B?  I asked this on HBF’s facebook page, and a friend from Ghana wondered what he could do to help raise awareness.  Another friend replied about his concern with HBV in Malawi.

When you consider the scope of hepatitis B, globally, it is indeed sobering.  Statistically, two billion people have been infected with hepatitis B worldwide, and 400 million are chronically infected.  Don’t let these numbers discourage you from your efforts.

When I returned from China in 2003, my heart was heavy with the burden the Chinese people experience on a day-to-day basis, living with HBV.  At the time I was providing infectious disease training for specific groups of Chinese people, but of course in the scheme of things, the outreach effort seemed minimal when compared to the burden.  I had to focus my efforts one-person-at-a-time.  I couldn’t let the sheer numbers discourage me from my mission to educate and raise HBV awareness at any level.

If you have the money or the connections to do something in a big way, that is wonderful.  Then many will benefit from your contribution.  However, I think it is important to note that hepatitis B education and awareness is fundamentally carried out at a grassroots level, where small numbers of individuals band together to make a difference.   Organizations like the Hepatitis B Foundation are crucial due to their ability to reach out and impact larger numbers of people through research, outreach, education and increased HBV awareness.  Utilize their website, social media channels and outreach to gain and share educational information, and help raise awareness.

So what can you do as an individual?  First thing you need to do is get educated on viral hepatitis.  There is much confusion among people about how HBV is transmitted.  If you mention hepatitis B, someone will invariably say, “oh yes.  My uncle got that from eating contaminated food!”  Well, he did get NOT hepatitis B from food!  Know the ABC’s of viral hepatitis, and eliminate these myths.  Hepatitis B is not spread casually, or by sharing a meal, hugging or kissing someone with hep B.  However, HBV is non-discriminating, and we are all vulnerable if we are not vaccinated.

Learn the facts about HBV.  Know some of the statistics, and how it is transmitted.  Know the difference between an acute infection vs. a chronic infection.  Know that 90% of adults will clear an acute infection, while 90% of infants infected will surely live with hepB for life.  Be sure safe injection and medical practices are followed in health care settings.

To raise awareness and eliminate confusion, you don’t have to know the details of surface antigens, antibodies or how to interpret blood test results.  You can look that up on HBF’s website!   This detailed info comes with time.  Start with the hep B basics.  If you are educated, you can educate others.

Learn about the HBV vaccination.  Know that if you are in a high risk group, you should be screened before you are vaccinated.  The vaccine doesn’t work if you already have hepB!  If you are not infected, then get vaccinated.  Let everyone know why vaccination is necessary.  Encourage pregnant women to be screened for HBV.  Ninety percent of  mother-to-child transmission of HBV can be eliminated by ensuring an infant receives a birth dose of the hepatitis B vaccine, followed by the other two shots in the series.  If HBIG is available to newborns of infected mothers, that is even better.

Many believe that hepatitis B will not affect them because they may not have symptoms. They do not realize HBV is a silent epidemic.  They may not realize the importance of their non-complaining liver, and how HBV can destroy it over time.

If you or loved ones have HBV, be sure you are vaccinated for Hepatitis A.  Take care of your liver and abstain from alcohol and tobacco use.  Eat a healthy diet, and practice safe sex.  Practice standard precautions.  Use common sense!

Now for the outreach part… Depending on your hep B status, you might be reluctant to share your new found information with everyone.  Start with your family, friends and household contacts.  They may not understand the global significance of HBV.  It’s okay to start small.

If you’re ready to increase your effort, then reach out to your church, and your community.  Join with others and participate in local city or village health center and community awareness events.  Join an HBV support group, and if you’re interested, create a language specific group for your country.  Volunteer, speak out, and help educate the masses of people who are unaware that HBV is truly a silent epidemic.

Together we can make a difference!

Mosquito Repellent and Hepatitis B

Summer has arrived and so have your annoying neighborhood mosquitoes, who show up uninvited to every party.  Everyone’s first impulse is to spray on the DEET, an effective, insect repellent, to keep them away.

If you have hepatitis B, and are working hard to “love your liver”, you might be wondering what affect DEET will have on your liver.   Your liver is an amazing organ responsible for filtering just about everything we inhale, ingest or absorb through the skin.  DEET is an effective, but strong chemical, that when applied to the skin, or accidentally inhaled while spraying, or ingested due to poor hand washing, may be found in the blood stream up to 12 hours later.  It’s your liver’s job to ensure this toxin is filtered from your system.   An over-taxed liver can be problematic for anyone, but placing additional burdens on your liver when you have HBV can contribute to liver damage over time.

Here are a couple of things to consider.  Mosquitoes and other flying, or biting insects are vectors for numerous diseases that can make us very sick.   (Please keep in mind that mosquitoes are NOT vectors for hepatitis B.)  As a result we have to consider other options, or weigh the risks vs. the benefits of spraying on a dose of DEET.  If you do decide that DEET is the best protection against mosquitoes, consider limiting your exposure by applying it to your clothing, rather than directly to the skin.  When you’re back inside and out of mosquito territory, wash it off.  Don’t wear it to bed.

A natural alternative to chemically produced repellents is citronella, which has been registered for use in the U.S. since 1948.  It is made by steam distillation of certain grasses, and is considered a biopesticide, a naturally occurring substance that controls by non-toxic means.

Citronella can be purchased in various outdoor candles and natural, registered products such as Burt’s Bee’s Herbal Insect Repellent, or Avon Skin So Soft.  Citronella and other remedies can be purchased as essential oils and applied to the skin.  Please remember that natural does not equate to safe.  Make sure directions-for-use are legitimate and followed explicitly.  These oils are dangerous when ingested, and they are not packaged in child-resistant containers to avoid accidental swallowing.  Be sure to research all natural remedies or chemical products, and ensure the directions-for-use are legitimate, and that they are stored out of reach of children.  In researching this blog, I ran across various factoids and instructions-for-use with natural remedies that were contradicted in other articles.

Here are some additional tips that may require a little more forethought, and may not be as effective as a chemical repellent.  However, they can provide some relief and perhaps a balance.  Recommendations include:

  • Wear light colored clothing.  Mosquitoes are attracted to dark clothing.
  • Cover as much skin as possible with clothing… long sleeves, pants, socks, hats, etc.
  • Consider the fragrances you wear.  Floral or fruity fragrances, scented soaps, perfumes, hair products, scented sunscreen and even fragrance from fabric softeners and dryer sheets attract mosquitoes.  In my house, nothing smells clean and fresh.  Everything is unscented.
  • Avoid being out when mosquitoes are most active – dawn and dusk.
  • Use external fans.  Mosquitoes don’t fly well in a stiff breeze!
  • Avoid areas with standing water.
  • Eat garlic…lots of it.  My pharmacist is Indian, and also prescribes natural remedies.  She told me garlic is often consumed in massive quantities to discourage mosquitoes.
  • Bats are your friends…   I grew up with two medium-sized, but stagnant ponds on our property.  We had lots of bats and no mosquitoes.

As always, it’s all about common sense and balance.  If you’re having a picnic at the Dismal Swamp, or traveling to countries where the risk of disease carrying mosquitoes is very high, then you might want to think about bringing along the can of DEET, and using it responsibly.  Perhaps an outing here or there may also warrant the use.  Otherwise, make an attempt to combat mosquitoes naturally, or make a concerted effort to avoid them at their worst.  Yet another way to incorporate “loving your liver” into your daily life!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Choosing a Liver Specialist to Treat Your HBV

Got HepB?  Which doctor is right for you?  Do you need a hepatologist, gastroenterologist (GI doctor), or an infectious disease doctor?  Is the patient an adult or child?  If you’re new to HBV, these specialty doctors are likely foreign to your doctor line-up, and weeding through the specialty titles and training can be confusing.   However, if you have HBV, it’s essential that you find a knowledgeable liver specialist to monitor and potentially treat your hepatitis B.

A hepatologist is a doctor that specializes in diseases associated with the liver.  Hepatology is a sub-specialty of gastroenterology.  This is an obvious choice for patients with HBV, but it may be difficult to find a hepatologist in your vicinity.

A gastroenterologist, or GI doctor, specializes in the function and disorders of the GI tract, which includes the esophagus, stomach, pancreas, intestines and the liver.  This covers a very broad spectrum of functions and diseases.  The key is to find a GI doctor that has experience treating patients with liver disease – specifically, viral hepatitis, and hepatitis B.  If your GI candidate spends much of his week performing endoscopies, he is likely not a good choice for a liver specialist.

Because hepatitis B is an infectious disease, it would seem logical that an infectious disease specialist would be the best choice.  However, this is not usually the case with hepatitis B, or viral hepatitis, but rather HIV and other infectious diseases.  Your best bet will most likely be a hepatologist or a GI doctor.

If the patient is a child, it is imperative that the child see a pediatric liver specialist.  Some of the best and brightest, cutting edge doctors are both pediatric hepatologists and GI docs.  Children with HBV are monitored and treated much differently than adults.  The labs look different, and the treatment protocols also differ.  You need a pediatric specialist.

Ultimately, the key is finding a liver specialist that has experience monitoring and treating patients with hepatitis B.  You need to ask the important questions.   How many patients are they currently monitoring and treating with hep B?  How is your doctor keeping abreast of the latest and greatest advances in the management of hepatitis B?  Does she attend conferences on viral hepatitis?

HBV is a chronic disease, so you are potentially entering into a long term relationship.  Be sure to ask questions that are important to YOU.  How are test results disseminated?  Are frequent visits required?  Is your doctor open minded – perhaps willing to consult with other experts treating patients with HBV?  It would be great if this specialist is affiliated with a large hospital or university center.  This may provide additional options such as clinical trials, should they become available.  Plus they tend to have a larger patient population, hence more case specific experience.

Typically, the need to visit your liver specialist is not that frequent, unless you are undergoing treatment.  Even then, much of the monitoring and follow-up are in the blood work, and much of that can be drawn locally, with the results sent to your liver specialist.  Some treatment protocols require more monitoring and blood work than others, but even so, it is typically for a short period of time.  This fact is significant, as it expands the size of your geographic circle of potential experts.

The Hepatitis B Foundation maintains a wonderful database of liver specialists for both adults and children.  From there you can check out your potential expert with members of HBV support groups that may have personal experience with your candidate.

Good luck choosing your liver specialist!

Just Diagnosed with Hepatitis B? How to Get Through the Next Six Months to Find Out If It’s Acute or Chronic

Image courtesy of graur razvan ionut at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Image courtesy of graur razvan ionut at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Have you recently been told you have hepatitis B?  Dealing with the illness and waiting out the next six months to determine if your case will resolve itself or become chronic can be nerve-wracking.

Fortunately, 90 percent of adults who are infected will clear or resolve an acute hepatitis B infection.  Acute patients do not typically require hospitalization, or even medication, during this time.  If you are symptomatic, (some symptoms include jaundice, dark urine, abdominal pain, fever, general malaise)  you may be anxiously conferring with your doctor, but if you are asymptomatic, you might not feel compelled to take the diagnosis seriously.  The response to both is to maintain a balance.  Do not ignore a hepatitis B diagnosis, but don’t let it consume you.

Your doctor will be monitoring your blood work over the next few months to ensure you clear the virus.  Your job is to start loving your liver …today.  STOP drinking alcoholic beverages.  Refrain from smoking.  Your liver is a non-complaining organ, but you cannot live without it.  Make everything in your diet liver-friendly and healthy.

Avoid processed foods, fatty foods and junk.  Get advice before taking prescription medications, herbal remedies, or over-the-counter drugs – especially pain relievers like ibuprofen, acetaminophen and paracetamol.  They can be dangerous to a liver that is battling hepatitis B.  Get plenty of rest, and exercise gently, if you are able.

Don’t forget that you are infectious during this time, and that loved ones, sexual partners and household contacts should be vaccinated for hepatitis B.  Be sure you and all contacts follow standard precautions.  If anyone fears exposure, encourage screening to ensure they did not contract hepatitis B as a result of your infection.  The hepatitis B vaccine is not effective if you are already infected with the virus.

On the flip-side… Do not let this new hepatitis B diagnosis consume you.  As the weeks and months pass, you might find that your illness is not resolving, and you might worry that you are one of the unfortunate 10 percent whose infection becomes chronic.  The associated stress and anxiety can be challenging, even overwhelming.  It can contribute to physical symptoms you may be experiencing.  Join an on-line support group, find a confidant or professional with whom you can share your fears.

When your lab results are back, and you’re told you have cleared your hepatitis B infection, be sure to get copies of your lab reports to ensure there are no mistakes.  If something looks wrong, or if you’re confused, speak up and ask your doctor.  It is imperative that you know if your acute case has progressed to a chronic infection.

No one wants chronic hepatitis B, but it is manageable with monitoring and there are effective treatments.  If you are confused about your diagnosis or test results, feel free to contact the Hepatitis B Foundation at info@hepb.org.

There are lessons to be learned from this experience.  If you have resolved your acute hepatitis B infection, then you do not need to be vaccinated.  However, please be sure that you help us eradicate this virus by spreading the word and ensuring everyone you know has been screened and vaccinated for Hepatitis B.  And don’t forget to keep Love N’ Your Liver…