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Category Archives: Hepatitis B Diagnosis & Monitoring

Checking In on Your New Years’ Resolutions for Hepatitis B

How are your New Years’ Resolutions going?  When you were making your resolutions, did you consider hepatitis B specific New Year’s resolutions?  Here are a few ideas…

  • Make an appointment to see your liver specialist.  If you have hepatitis B, and you are not being seen regularly by a liver specialist, or a doctor knowledgeable about hepatitis B every six months, then make the commitment to do so this year. It is important to know and keep track of your HBV status and your liver health. Check out HBF’s Directory of Liver Specialists. We do not have names and contact information for all countries, so please feel free to share your favorite liver specialist with the HBV community. Make an appointment today!

 

  • Organize your hepatitis B lab dataand make a table with the date of the blood draw and the associated blood test results. You’ll want to start by requesting copies of all of your labs from your doctor. Then you can generate data tables using Excel, Word or a pencil and paper table for your charted data.  It will help you visualize your HBV over time, and you may find your doctor likes to see both the lab results and your table of results.

 

  • Generate a list of questionsfor your next appointment with your liver specialist.  People get nervous anticipating what their doctor might say about their health. It is very easy to forget those important questions, so be sure to write them down, or add them to a note app on your phone or tablet. If the option is available, have a family member or friend attend the appointment with you. That will allow you to pay closer attention while your friend or family member takes notes for you.

 

 

  • Avoid the use of alcohol. Hepatitis B and alcohol is a dangerous combination. An annual toast to the New Year? Sure. Drinking daily, weekly or even monthly? Not a good idea.  Binge drinking? Dangerous. A studyshows an increased risk for liver cancer among cirrhotic patients with HBV. Don’t let it get that far. If you have HBV and you are still drinking alcohol, seek the help you need to stop.

 

 

  • Exercise. Many people think that having a chronic illness precludes them from exercise. This is rarely the case, but if you have concerns, talk to your doctor. If you consistently exercise, keep up the good work. If you don’t, please start slowly and work your way up to a more strenuous routine, and follow general physical activity guidelines for adults. Join a gym or find an exercise buddy. Don’t compare yourself to others and work at your own pace. Set realistic workout goals. You don’t need to run a marathon. Brisk, daily walking is great, too. You may find that you experience both physical and emotional benefits, and if you exercise with friends, you’ll also benefit socially. Clinical and experimental studiesshow that physical exercise helps prevent the progression of liver cancer and improves quality of life. It also helps prevent the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD or “fatty liver”. Get moving. It’s good for your overall health and specifically your liver!

 

  • Maintain a healthy weight by eating a well-balanced diet.This is a favorite on the New Year’s Resolution list for just about everyone with or without HBV. You can’t prevent or cure HBV with a healthy diet, but it does help by preventing additional problems like the onset of fatty liver disease or diabetes. If you’ve been following trending health problems, then you are well aware that fatty liver disease and type 2 diabetes are huge problems both in the U.S. and around the globe. Fatty liver disease and type 2 diabetes can often be prevented with a healthy diet and regular exercise. Start by avoiding fast foods, and processed foods. Cut down on fatty foods and sweets. Sugar (fructose) is not your friend. Avoid sugary treats and drinks with sugar, including sodas and fruit juices. Reduce the amount of saturated fats, trans fats and hydrogenated fats in your diet. Saturated fats are found in deep-fried foods, red and fatty cuts of meats and dairy products. Trans and hydrogenated fats are found in processed foods. With fatty liver disease, fat accumulates in the liver and increases inflammation. If you have hepatitis B, you want to avoid any additional complications that may arise with fatty liver disease. Diabetes and HBV together can also be very complicated.  So what should you eat? Eat plenty of fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, whole grains, fish and lean meats, and whole grains. Eat brown rice, whole wheat breads and pastas, instead of white rice, bread and pasta.  Go back to the basics! If you have specific questions about your diet, be sure to talk to your doctor.

 

  • Don’t worry, be happy… Easy to say, but not so easy to accomplish. Anxietyand depression associated with a chronic illness are challenging problems that may be short term, or can worm their way into nearly every aspect of your life. They can even create physical symptoms that may be confusing and may result in even more worry. Please talk to your doctor if you believe your anxiety or depression is something you are unable to manage on your own. Consider joining a support group where you can talk to others facing the same challenges. Personally, I found the Hepatitis B Information and Support List a wonderful source of information and support. Chronic illness can feel very lonely – especially with a disease like HBV that has a stigma associated with it. Find a trusted confident with whom you can share your story.

Check out our previous post about New Year’s resolutions to get more ideas and tips!

New Year’s Resolutions

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The holidays are over and it’s time for a fresh new year- a fresh new start! Have you made your New Year’s resolutions yet? Do you need some suggestions or help creating your list? Here are some ideas!

  • Be healthier.
    • One of the most popular New Year’s resolutions in the US is to be healthier, whether it is to eat healthier, get more exercise, and/or to head over to the gym more often. There are studies that continue to show the importance of exercise, which favorably impacts the health of your liver as well. Although there is no specific diet for chronic hepatitis B, studies show that eating cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower is good for the liver.  Green, leafy vegetables are also good for the liver. All of these veggies tend to naturally protect the liver against chemicals from the environment.  The American Cancer Society’s diet, which includes low fat, low cholesterol, and high fiber foods is a good, general diet to follow.  It is also good to avoid processed foods and foods from “fast food restaurants”. These foods along with too many foods high in saturated fats, and foods or sugary drinks with refined sugars and flours may result in fatty liver disease, which can also harm the liver. When possible, eat whole grains and brown rice. For more suggestions, check out the World Health Organization’s healthy diet and CDC’s tips for staying healthy.
  • See your doctor more often.
    • We encourage those chronically infected to be regularly monitored by a liver specialist, treated when necessary, and to make lifestyle changes that help keep the liver healthy. The most important thing is to find a doctor who is knowledgeable about hepatitis B, who can help manage your infection and check the health of your liver on a regular basis. The doctor will take blood tests, along with a physical examination of the abdominal area and perhaps an ultrasound, to determine the health of the liver. Talk to the doctor and see what he or she recommends. Don’t forget to get copies of test results for personal files to see how test results change over time
  • Stop drinking/limit alcohol.
    • Chronic hepatitis B and alcohol is a dangerous mixture.  Studies have shown that even small amounts of alcohol can cause damage to an already weakened liver.  Avoiding alcohol is one decision someone can make that will greatly reduce the risk of further liver disease. It is also important to avoid smoking and other environmental toxins.  For example, avoid inhaling fumes from paint, paint thinners, glue and household cleaning products, which may contain chemicals that could damage the liver.  Keep in mind that everything that you eat, drink, breathe in or absorb through the skin is eventually filtered by your liver and toxins are removed. If you can limit the toxins in your body, your liver will benefit.
  • Pursue your dreams.
    • Don’t let your hepatitis B status stop you!! Find friends, family members, colleagues, and/or doctors who can support and encourage you to learn about your hep B status. Become an advocate for yourself, just like our #justB storytellers!

Start off your resolutions with attainable goals! You don’t have to quit cold turkey and completely eliminate certain foods. Take it step by step! Keeping a journal and tracking your progress will help you keep an eye on those resolutions this year. Even if you break your New Year’s resolutions, don’t be discouraged! Everyone goes through pitfalls and experiences lows. The important thing is to start over again when you break your resolutions!

Check out our previous post on New Year’s resolutions for more ideas for your resolution this year!

Celebrating the Holidays with Hepatitis B

Image courtesy of Pixabay

The holidays are a joyous time as family and friends gather for parties, dinners and get-togethers. However, they can also be a difficult, stressful time on so many levels, and especially for those who might not yet have disclosed their hepatitis B to loved ones.  You may have been recently diagnosed, or decided this is the year you’re going to let them know about your status. If you’re not there yet, that’s okay, but consider making this the year you choose to disclose.

Enjoy and celebrate the holiday cheer, but …alcoholic beverages may be an issue during this time, and it may be tempting to indulge. The most important thing to do is not pick up that drink no matter what! Hepatitis B and alcohol is a dangerous combination. Here are some tips that may help you politely refuse a drink:

  • Practice saying no
  • Prepare a reason for not drinking (i.e., “Sorry, I’m taking mediation and I can’t drink.” or “My stomach is upset and I want to enjoy all this food.”)
  • Leave the event early if you feel uncomfortable.
  • Find others who are not drinking.
  • Choose a non-alcoholic drink – sparkling water with fruit is a healthy option!
  • Volunteer to be the designated driver. You may suddenly find you have many friends!

You might want to think long and hard about disclosing your status to coworkers and acquaintances.  Only you know for sure, but family and close friends can become a new source of support for you moving forward. If the holidays inspire you to share your status, you may start with talking about your family’s health history. Even though hepatitis B is not genetic and does not run in families like some other chronic diseases, it is possible that you may have hepatitis B because you were exposed to it from an infected family member, possibly at birth or by accidental household exposure; 90% of babies and 50% of young children who were infected with hepatitis B become chronically infected. It is also important to talk about hepatitis B if there is a history of liver disease and cancer in your family. Having hepatitis B can put you at an increased risk of developing liver disease and liver cancer during your lifetime.

Here are some other considerations:

  • Choose a time when there will not be too many distractions.
  • Think about whether your loved ones will be open and accepting.
  • Bring up an interesting fact to open up the conversation.
  • Ask a relative about their health history.
  • Try to break stereotypes surrounding hepatitis B.
  • Encourage your family members to get tested, vaccinated, or treated.
  • Family members may mention that “an uncle had liver problems”, or “died of cancer”, but not know if it was related to hepatitis B.
  • Be prepared with a printed fact sheet or video from the Hepatitis B Foundation or material from the Know Hepatitis B campaign!

Disclosure can be scary and make you anxious! When you are disclosing to a loved one, their response is out of your control, but their response might surprise you. Be prepared with simple explanations about hepatitis B. A Google search may highlight frightening statistics, so be sure to reassure loved ones that HBV is controllable and manageable.

Take a look at the videos from our #justB storytellers about how HBV has impacted their lives, and share them with family members. We must all do what we can to break the silence about hepatitis B so we can get more people tested and into care, and reduce stigma and discrimination!

For more tips on how to navigate the holidays with hepatitis B, check out our previous post here.

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.