Hep B Blog

Category Archives: Hepatitis B Diagnosis & Monitoring

Do You Have Hepatitis B?

Have you been told you may be infected with  hepatitis B?  Did you get a letter following a blood donation, or receive lab results indicating infection?  It’s important you relax, educate yourself, and don’t let the news scare you.  The next step is to determine if you are infected, and if so, do you have an acute or chronic infection.

You’ll want to talk with your doctor, and have a hepatitis B blood panel run.  It is essential that you do not ignore the possibility of infection.  That being said, it’s equally important that you not panic.

When you get your lab results, ask your doctor to explain them to you.  It’s possible that you are not infected, but if you are, then you will need follow-up testing.  Be sure to ask for copies of your labs for your own records.  The test results are initially confusing, so you will want to refer back to the hard-copy results.

It is important to determine if you have an acute or chronic infection, but this may take some time.  If you were infected with HBV as an adult, there is a good chance you are acutely infected.  Fortunately, 90% of infected adults resolve the virus on their own. Recently infected adults may have flu-like symptoms, fatigue, yellowing of the eyes, or they may have no symptoms at all.  The answer is in the lab work.  Your doctor may run an HBc-IgM test, which will tell you if the infection is newly acquired. If it is a new infection, you will be monitored for the next one to six months to see if the HBV infection clears, and to ensure you are safe.  During this time, you are infectious to others, so it is important to practice standard precautions and ensure household members are vaccinated.  It is important to eat properly, rest, and avoid alcohol and tobacco. Talk to your doctor about the use of prescription and OTC drugs.  Hopefully your body will be able to mount an appropriate immune response, and you will be able to rid yourself of the virus.  If you remain surface antigen positive (HBsAg+) for more than six months you will be considered chronically infected.

Ten percent of those infected with HBV as an adult, will not clear the virus, and will become chronically infected.  Another group of adults that may just be learning of their Hepatitis B status, are those that acquired HBV at birth.  HBV infected mothers may unknowingly transmit HBV to babies.  Transmission can be prevented with vaccination at birth, but in many countries where HBV is endemic, a cycle of HBV transmission may exist where vaccination has not been available, and the virus is passed unknowingly from one generation to the next. Unfortunately, 90% of those infected at birth are chronically infected, even though it may not be determined until adulthood.  HBV is usually an uncomplaining disease, so it may be picked up accidently with blood-work , or when liver disease progresses due to decades of chronic infection.

Keep in mind that being vaccinated against hepatitis B will not protect you against the virus if you were infected with HBV prior to vaccination.  This can be confusing since most people are not screened prior to vaccination, and is  especially pertinent in high risk groups where the likelihood of mother to child transmission is greater.

The Hepatitis B Foundation has a step-by-step, comprehensive, yet-easy-to-understand tutorial that leads you through the process of determining your hepatitis B status, specific test results, and practical advice for coping with your HBV diagnosis.

Got Hepatitis B? B Sure to Take Care of U!

As a mother of a child with hepatitis B, I was always concerned my child would transmit the virus to others.  One day a toddler came up and bit her in the finger and drew blood.  She was strapped into her stroller, and yet I felt guilty and fearful she might transmit the virus to “the biter”.  I rushed my child to the pediatrician, and immediately inquired about the safety of the other toddler.  He reminded me that that “blood is a two-way street for the transmission of infectious diseases”.   I should worry about MY child.   The other child was likely vaccinated since HBV vaccination is required in my state. I heeded his advice, and from that day forth I started thinking about the safety of MY child and others infected with HBV.

Fortunately, hepatitis B is a vaccine preventable disease, so that does ease concerns regarding the transmission of HBV to others.  A simple three shot HBV vaccine series does the trick.  There is no reason someone should NOT be protected against a vaccine preventable virus that is 100 times more infectious than HIV!   Stop feeling guilty, and start thinking about protecting YOU!

If you have HBV, Hepatitis A (HAV) can be very dangerous.   HAV is vaccine preventable.  A simple two shot series will keep all those with or without HBV safe from highly-contagious HAV.

Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for HCV or HIV.  If you are HBV+, a  co-infection is complicated and dangerous, and can result in significant liver damage.  The best way to combat infection from HCV, HIV and other infectious diseases is to use standard precautions.

Make standard precautions part of your everyday life.  Simple hand washing and proper avoidance of contact with someone else’s blood and body fluids is an easy way to avoid transmission of potentially life threatening illnesses, or any illness.  Cover open cuts with a Band-Aid.  Provide a barrier between someone else’s blood or body fluids, and any open wounds, sores, mucus membranes and orifices.  You don’t want to get infected with another blood borne pathogen!  Does this mean you need to look like someone out of a bio-hazard lab with goggles and gloves?  No!  Use common sense, and you can be safe without going overboard.   A simple barrier between you and someone else’s body fluids is the best way to avoid exposure.  Keep something like a clean diaper, towel or wrapped sanitary pad, in a plastic baggie, in your car, and on each level of your home.

Personal toiletries should be just that…personal.  Keep your toothbrush away from your sibling, friend or SO. Neatly dispose of used feminine hygiene products because it’s the right thing to do.  Don’t leave your razor or nail clippers lying around.  Sharp, personal objects really are a perfect transmission route for infectious disease.

Got HBV?  Remember, keep YOURSELF safe!  And the kid in the stroller… well she’s a teen, today.  Now there’s a whole new set of worries.

Who’s On Your HBV Team?

No matter where you are with your hepatitis B – chronically infected since birth, or recently learned you are HBV positive, you want to be sure you are surrounded by all of the right people to give you the medical guidance and emotional support you need.

Start with your primary care physician (PCP).  You want a doctor that listens to you and is willing to work with your liver specialist.  Your PCP’s office may be coordinating your annual or bi-annual lab work for HBV monitoring and is your first line of care .

HBV can be complicated when it comes to making decisions about whether or not you need monitoring, treatment, or monitoring for liver cancer (HCC).  There are many phases of HBV, and you want to be sure you are followed through ALL phases.  You need a liver specialist that has experience working with patients infected with HBV.  This doctor is nearly always a Gastroenterologist (GI doc) or a Hepatologist.  If the patient is a child, you need a pediatric GI doctor or hepatologist.  Although well qualified, an infectious disease doctor is not really the best fit because of the involvement of the liver.  Once again, experience with HBV infected patients is crucial.  These specialists are often found at large, or University Hospital centers.

Check out this directory of liver specialists in your area.   Keep in mind that living a couple of hours from your liver specialist should be fine.  Visits are typically annual or bi-annual.  Visits may increase depending on treatment you may require.  Lab work can usually be coordinated with your local lab via your PCP.

Get to know your local pharmacist.  They are a wonderful source of information on everything from prescribed HBV medications to choosing the best OTC cold medicines, or pain relievers.  I am on a first name basis with my pharmacist, and try to visit when the volume of customers is low, so no one feels rushed.

Living with a chronic illness can take its toll on your mental health.  Each patient is unique, but generally all patients cycle through initial fear or denial, isolation, worry, and acceptance.  If you feel you are depressed and need help coping with your HBV, seek advice from your PCP, liver specialist, or a mental health expert.

Consider joining a support group.  Sometimes it’s lonely dealing with a complicated, chronic illness like HBV.   Support groups are a great forum for addressing the many concerns when dealing with various aspects of your HBV, from the best treatment protocols to sex and dating.  I belong to two HBV support groups and I find the interactions extremely informative, and the list members caring and very supportive of members in all stages of their HBV.

Take a look at The Hepatitis B Foundation’s website.  There’s a multitude of information from simple HBV basics to in-depth information from world-renowned liver specialists and researchers, along with personal stories.  Ask away if you have any questions.  HBF is here to help, and we hope to be part of your team.