Hep B Blog

Category Archives: Living with Hepatitis B

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.

Learn Which Cancer, Arthritis or Asthma Drugs Can Reactivate Hepatitis B – Even If You’ve Cleared the Infection

Courtesy of Pixabay.
Courtesy of Pixabay.

By Christine Kukka

Drugs that suppress your immune system in order to treat cancers, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, COPD and asthma can cause a life-threatening reactivation of your hepatitis B.

This dangerous viral rebound can occur if you are currently infected or even if you cleared the infection and now test negative for the hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) and positive for the surface antibody (HBsAb).

These drugs weaken the immune system, which allows your infection to rebound with a vengeance, spiking your viral load and causing life-threatening liver damage within weeks of starting chemotherapy or high-dose steroids.

What’s behind this reactivation risk? Think herpes or chicken pox (shingles). You might get rid of the infections and the ugly blisters, but small amounts of virus remain and as we age and our immune systems weaken, they can reappear.

The hepatitis B virus (HBV) behaves similarly. When we lose HBsAg and/or develop surface antibodies, there are still small amounts of HBV lurking in our bodies. When we’re healthy, our immune systems effectively contain these trace amounts of virus, but old age, another serious medical condition or immune-suppressing drugs allow hepatitis B to reactivate.

Today, medical guidelines require doctors to test everyone they plan to treat with any immune-suppressing drugs for the hepatitis B core antibody (HBcAb) so they know who has been infected with hepatitis B. If a patient tests positive, doctors must run more tests to determine what risk the new drug will pose. When a patient is at risk of reactivation, doctors will simultaneously treat them with antivirals (either tenofovir or entecavir) and continue antiviral treatment for six more months after the immune-suppressing therapy ends to prevent reactivation.

U.S. CDC.
U.S. CDC.

This mandatory testing is important because some people don’t know they should tell their doctors about their past infection, and many don’t know they’re infected. Here is what happened to one person who contacted the Hepatitis B Foundation after her doctor failed to test her for hepatitis B:

“I recently had my first dose of chemotherapy and I did not mention (to) my oncologist that I was a carrier of hepatitis B, (because) I knew that it was not active. Then, after a week of chemo, I was really sick and got a high temperature. Then, my blood test came back (indicating) that my hepatitis B was reactivated. My liver doctor gave me medicine (an antiviral) to take to deactivate the virus.”

Her oncologist immediately stopped chemotherapy and monitored her HBV DNA (viral load) and liver enzymes (ALT/SGPT) to make sure the antiviral lowered her viral load before restarting chemotherapy. This example shows why it’s important to tell all doctors, including specialists, about a current or resolved hepatitis B infection. No one wants to be battling cancer and a reactivated hepatitis B infection at the same time.

According to experts, about 4.3 percent of people who have cleared hepatitis B will experience a reactivation when treated with immune-suppressing drugs.

Which drugs reactivate hepatitis B? Below is a summary of drugs that can reactivate your hepatitis B and require monitoring and preventive use of antivirals to reduce reactivation risk, according to American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) guidelines:

High-risk Drugs:

More than 10 percent of people with current or resolved hepatitis B infections will experience a dangerous reactivation if treated with:

  • Rituximab for non-Hodgkins lymphoma, or
  • Ofatumumab for chronic lymphocytic leukemia

Anyone with a current infection (HBsAg positive) treated with the following is also at high risk of reactivation:

  • Anthracycline derivatives (such as doxorubicin, epirubicin) used to treat cancers, including breast or bladder cancer, Kaposi’s sarcoma, lymphoma or acute lymphocytic leukemia, or,
  • Moderate-doses of prednisone/corticosteroids (10 to 20 mg daily) or high doses (more than 20 mg daily or equivalent) for four or more weeks. This steroid is used to treat inflammatory diseases including asthma, COPD, rheumatic disorders, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, MS, tuberculosis, shingles side effects, lupus, poison oak and tuberculosis among others.

Moderate-risk Drugs:

 Anyone with a resolved or current infection treated with the following drugs is at moderate risk of reactivation:

  • Tumor necrosis factor alpha inhibitors, such as etanercept, adalimumab, certolizumab, infliximab, for arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, psoriasis and asthma;
  • Other cytokine or integrin inhibitors (such as abatacept, ustekinumab, natalizumab, vedolizumab), or
  • Tyrosine kinase inhibitors (such as imatinib, nilotinib)

 Also with a current infection treated is at moderate risk if treated with:

  • Low-dose (less than 10 mg prednisone daily or equivalent) corticosteroids for four or more weeks.

Also, anyone with a resolved infection treated with:

  • Moderate-dose (10—20 mg prednisone daily or equivalent) or high-dose (more than 20 mg prednisone daily or equivalent), or
  • Corticosteroids daily for four or more weeks, or anyone treated with anthracycline derivatives (eg, doxorubicin, epirubicin).

Low-risk Drugs:

Drugs that reactivate hepatitis B in fewer than 1 percent of patients include:

Current or previously-infected people treated with:

  • Traditional immunosuppressive drugs such as azathioprine, 6-mercaptopurine or methotrexate, or
  • Intra-articular corticosteroids
  • Any dose of oral corticosteroids daily for a week or less.

Previously-infected patients treated with:

  • Low-dose (less than 10 mg prednisone or equivalent) corticosteroids for four weeks or longer.

To see the entire list of immune-suppressing drugs, read the AGA guidelines.

Hepatitis B reactivation following successful hepatitis C treatment: New antivirals (such as Harvoni), used to cure hepatitis C do not suppress the immune system, but they leave coinfected people at risk of HBV reactivation once the dominant hepatitis C virus disappears. Coinfected patients need to be monitored carefully and treated with antivirals if their HBV rebounds.

You Have Hepatitis B, Will Liver-Detox Diets or Supplements Help? Experts Weigh In

Courtesy of Pixabay.
Courtesy of Pixabay.

By Christine Kukka

Manufacturers and health “gurus” around the world market liver detox diets and supplements that promise to remove toxins, reduce inflammation, strengthen the immune system and help you lose weight. But do they help people with chronic hepatitis B?

A team of Australian researchers examined these claims and concluded, “At present, there is no compelling evidence to support the use of detox diets for weight management or toxin elimination.

“Considering the financial costs to consumers, unsubstantiated claims and potential health risks of detox products, they should be discouraged by health professionals and subject to independent regulatory review and monitoring,” the authors wrote in their report published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics.

Let’s look at some of the diets and products the researchers evaluated.

  • The Cleanser/Lemon Detox Diet that requires 10 days of drinking only lemon juice, water, cayenne pepper and tree syrup, along with sea salt water and a mild laxative herbal tea.

    Courtesy of Pixabay.
    Courtesy of Pixabay.
  • The Liver Cleansing Diet featuring vegetarian, high-fiber, low-fat, dairy-free, minimally processed food for eight weeks, along with “liver tonics and Epsom salts.”
  • Martha’s Vineyard Detox Diet: A 21-day regimen features vegetable juice and soup, herbal tea and special powders, tablets, cocktails and digestive enzymes.
  • Dr Oz’s 48-hour Weekend Cleanse: A two-day program featuring quinoa, vegetables, fruit juices and smoothies, vegetable broth and dandelion root tea, and;
  • The Hubbard purification rundown: This requires increasing doses of niacin with a range of A, D, C, E and B vitamins, a variety of minerals and a blend of polyunsaturated oils and mandates that adherents spend five hours in a hot sauna daily.

According to researchers, none of these plans have been evaluated scientifically, which includes using a control group that receives a placebo instead of the treatment. The L. Ron Hubbard plan, promoted by the Church of Scientology, received some scientific evaluation after the purification protocol was applied to 14 rescue workers who were exposed to high levels of chemicals after the 9/11 collapse of the World Trade Center.

The program used niacin supplements, sweating in a sauna and physical exercise to get rid of toxins stored in body fat — which is where nearly all toxins end up – not in liver cells.

“The firemen’s scores on several memory tests reportedly improved after the intervention but the sample size was small and no control group was included,” researchers noted. The Church of Scientology used a similar program and employed a small control group, but the length of the treatment varied widely (ranging from 11 to 89 days). “Rather dubiously, the average increase in IQ in the experimental group was reported to be 6.7 points, despite the average intervention length being only 31 days,” researchers noted.

As with herbal supplements sold around the world, there is also no regulation of the detox diet industry.

“At present, the European Union has refused to authorize the detoxification claims of a dozen nutritional substances (including green coffee, grapefruit and taurine), although there are hundreds of other ‘detox’ products that do not yet appear on the Health and Nutrition Claims Register,” researchers wrote.

More alarming, it appears these companies are now using new marketing terms, such as “reinvention” and “revamp,” instead of detox and cleansing, which makes it difficult for government agencies to regulate these products.

“In some cases, the components of detox products may not match their labels, which is a potentially dangerous situation,” researchers noted. “In Spain, a 50-year-old man died from manganese poisoning after consuming Epsom salts as part of a liver cleansing diet.”

So why are these diets and supplements so popular?

“The seductive power of detox diets presumably lies in their promise of purification and redemption, which are ideals that are deep-rooted in human psychology,” researchers observed. “These diets … are highly reminiscent of the religious fasts that have been popular throughout human history. Unfortunately, equating food with sin, guilt and contamination is likely to set up an unhealthy relationship with nutrition. There is no doubt that sustained healthy habits are of greater long-term value than the quick fixes offered by commercial detox diets.”

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

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

By Christine Kukka

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Medical Community Wakes Up to a Dangerous Threat to People with Hepatitis B – Coinfection with Hepatitis D

hep DBy Christine Kukka

In the U.S. and around the world, the medical community is finally acknowledging a hidden threat to people with hepatitis B – a virulent liver coinfection that requires the presence of the hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) to survive.
Hepatitis D (Delta), which causes the most severe liver infection known to humans, infects between 15 to 20 million people worldwide and an estimated 20,000 people living with chronic hepatitis B in the U.S.
For years, health officials assumed hepatitis D did not threaten Americans and occurred primarily in Central Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. However, recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) studies found 4 to 5 percent of Americans with chronic hepatitis B are also infected with hepatitis D.
As a result of these findings, researchers including Hepatitis B Foundation‘s Medical Director Dr. Robert Gish, are now pushing medical organizations to establish hepatitis D testing and monitoring guidelines so doctors will start testing patients for this dangerous liver disease.
Recently, the foundation sponsored a webinar, attended by dozens of healthcare providers, patients and officials from around the world, in which Dr. Gish outlined whom should be tested for hepatitis D, and how it should be treated. A new webinar that examines hepatitis D prevalence in the U.S. is scheduled for 3 p.m. (EST), Wednesday, June 28. To register for the webinar click here.
How do people get infected with hepatitis D? Infection occurs when people are exposed to blood and body fluids from someone with an active hepatitis D infection. Basically, they get both hepatitis B and D in one exposure. This is called an acute coinfection. Some healthy adults are able to clear both infections, but they often experience serious liver damage during the clearance or recovery phase.

Another way to become infected is if someone infected with chronic hepatitis B is exposed to someone with hepatitis D. This is called a superinfection, and in 90 percent of cases, people with chronic hepatitis B will also develop chronic hepatitis D.

Who is at risk of hepatitis D? Anyone with chronic hepatitis B who themselves or their family comes from Sub-Saharan Africa, China, Russia, Middle East, Mongolia, Romania, Georgia, Turkey, Pakistan and the Amazonian River Basin should be tested. Hepatitis D rates in some of these countries can reach up to 30 percent in people infected with chronic hepatitis B.

Banner CurveWhat medical conditions suggest 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 be tested. Fatty liver disease (caused by obesity) and liver damage from alcohol or environmental toxins should be ruled out before testing for hepatitis D.
Often, people with hepatitis D have low viral loads (even if they are hepatitis B “e” antigen HBeAg-positive), but they have signs of liver damage, including elevated liver enzyme (ALT/SGPT) levels.

Do hepatitis B antivirals work against hepatitis D? No. The hepatitis D virus (HDV) is structurally different from the hepatitis B virus (HBV) and does not respond to tenofovir and entecavir used to treat hepatitis B. Hepatitis B antivirals will lower HBV DNA, but they don’t reduce HBsAg, which HDV need to thrive and reproduce.

How is hepatitis D treated? The only proven hepatitis D treatment is pegylated interferon. Interferon cures hepatitis D 15 to 25 percent of the time after one year of treatment. Once interferon clears hepatitis D, doctors treat patients who continue to be infected with HBV with antivirals. There are dozens of research companies now looking into hepatitis D treatment, and if researchers can find a cure for hepatitis B that eradicates HBsAg, it will also be effective against hepatitis D.

How should people with hepatitis D be monitored? According to Dr. Gish, doctors should:

  • Monitor patients’ ALT/SGPT and liver function at least every six months
  • Perform an ultrasound of the liver and conduct a liver cancer biomarker panel (including AFP, AFPL3% and DCP) every six months;
  • And, perform viral load (HBV DNA) and HDV RNA testing every six months.

How is hepatitis D prevented? The hepatitis B vaccine prevents hepatitis D infection, as does use of safe sex and safe injection practices. According to Dr. Gish, all hepatitis B-positive pregnant women should be tested for hepatitis D if they or their families are from a country with high rates of hepatitis D, or if they have signs of liver damage — even if they do not come from a region with high hepatitis D rates.

If a pregnant woman is infected with either hepatitis B and/or hepatitis D, immunizing her newborn with the first dose of the hepatitis B vaccine within 12 hours of birth and giving the baby a dose of HBIG (hepatitis B antibodies) will prevent both infections.

Bottom line, if you are infected with chronic hepatitis B, you should be tested for hepatitis D if:

  • You or your family comes from a region with high rates of hepatitis D; and/or
  • You have a low viral load, but you continue to have signs of liver damage, indicated by elevated ALT/SGPT or an ultrasound exam of your liver, if your doctor has ruled out fatty liver, NASH or alcohol-related liver damage.

Talk to your doctor about getting tested. Click here for a hepatitis D fact sheet to give to your doctor and click here for a patient-oriented fact sheet. An affordable hepatitis D test has recently become available in the U.S. For more information, click here.

  • Find answers to frequently-asked-questions about hepatitis D here.
  • To watch the webinar featuring Dr. Gish discussing the hidden, hepatitis D epidemic, click here.

When Can Hepatitis B Patients Stop Taking Antivirals? Experts Finally Have Some Answers

Image courtesy of foto76 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of foto76 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By Christine Kukka

With the help of antivirals, many patients today have undetectable viral load (HBV DNA), a relatively healthy liver and cleared the hepatitis B “e” antigen (HBeAg). So when can they consider stopping their daily entecavir or tenofovir pill?

For years, experts have admitted the endgame of antiviral treatment has been “ill-defined.” While antivirals reduce viral load and the risk of liver damage, they rarely cure people. Recently, after years of observing patients and with the help of better diagnostic tools, experts are getting better at identifying when might be safe to stop.

Historically, in addition to reducing viral load to undetectable levels, the goals of antiviral treatment were:

  • Triggering HBeAg seroconversion: About 21 percent of HBeAg-positive patients with liver damage treated with either tenofovir or entecavir for 12 months are able to lose the hepatitis B “e” antigen (HBeAg) and develop the “e” antibody (HBeAb). This HBeAg “seroconversion” indicates the immune system is fighting the infection and slowing viral replication.
  • And reducing liver damage and even clearing the hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg): About 1-3 percent of patients treated with antivirals lose HBsAg after years of treatment. This is called a “functional cure.” Unfortunately, if you have HBeAg-negative hepatitis B, only 1-2 percent of you will lose HBsAg after five to eight years of antiviral treatment.*

If you are among the lucky few who achieve HBeAg seroconversion or clear HBsAg, when is it safe to stop your daily antiviral? Here are the newest guidelines detailing when it may be safe to stop from the 2017 European Association for the Study of the Liver (EASL).

Image courtesy of Taoty at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Taoty at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When is it safe to stop antivirals after you’ve achieved HBeAg seroconversion? Stop too early, and HBeAg can reappear. EASL recommend non-cirrhotic patients who experience HBeAg seroconversion and continue to have undetectable HBV DNA for 12 months longer can stop antivirals, as long as there is frequent monitoring after.

When is it safe to stop if you have HBeAg-negative hepatitis B and have undetectable viral load after years of antiviral treatment? EASL guidelines say non-cirrhotic, HBeAg-negative patients who have had at least three years of antiviral treatment, undetectable viral load and no signs of liver damage can stop treatment, as long as there is frequent follow-up monitoring.

When is it safe to stop antivirals if you’ve lost HBsAg? EASL recommends stopping antivirals after losing HBsAg, even if a patient does not develop the hepatitis B surface antibody (HBsAb). Recently, experts have decided that patients who lose HBsAg may be “functionally” cured, even if no surface antibodies appear.

Researchers also have a new way to determine if it’s safe for patients who had HBeAg seroconversion to stop antivirals – by measuring their HBsAg levels. The lower your HBsAg levels, the more likely you are to maintain HBeAg seroconversion after you stop antivirals.

For example, patients may be HBeAg-negative and have no signs of liver damage, but if their HBsAg levels remain high, these patients remain at risk of reactivation and should continue antiviral treatment. (Read more about HBsAg quantification testing here.)

These antiviral “stopping rules” are still in development and are still frustratingly vague for many patients, but slowly researchers are developing tools and compiling more research in order to develop better guidelines when it’s safe to stop the daily antiviral treatment plan.

 *The statistics and recommendations cited are found at EASL2017 Clinical Practice Guidelines.

Is Fasting Safe for People Living with Hepatitis B?

Courtesy of Pixabay.
Courtesy of Pixabay.

By Christine Kukka

If you have hepatitis B  and you’re considering fasting to lose weight, celebrate Ramadan or “detox” your liver, think again and talk to your doctor first.

Fasting can lower blood sugar, zap your energy, stress your immune system and be life-threatening for people suffering liver damage from viral hepatitis.

“Fasting for very limited periods of time may be safe if you have no signs of liver damage—indicated by normal liver enzymes (ALT/SGPT) or an ultrasound exam of the liver,” said Hepatitis B Foundation Medical Director Dr. Robert Gish. However, if you have liver damage (with ALT/SGPT levels exceeding 30 in men and 19 in women) and are taking medications to treat hepatitis B, research shows fasting may exacerbate liver damage.

Is limited fasting safe? Culturally, fasting is practiced to bring people closer to their spirituality and increase empathy for those living in poverty. For Muslims, fasting is practiced during Ramadan (beginning May 26 and ending June 25). During Ramadan, Muslims are instructed to abstain from eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset.

Image courtesy of Prakairoj at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Image courtesy of Prakairoj at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Historically, Islamic teachings allow pregnant women and people with serious medical conditions to break with tradition and eat and drink during daylight hours if their health is at risk. Rawalpindi Medical College Principal and Professor of Medicine Dr. Muhammad Umar of Pakistan explained that if hepatitis B and C patients are healthy, they can safely fast during the day. But if they are taking antiviral medications, or have serious liver damage such as cirrhosis (liver scarring) or ascites (distention of abdomen due to the accumulation of fluid in the peritoneal cavity) or liver cancer, fasting is not allowed.

There is little research about what impact limited fasting has on people with chronic hepatitis B. A report in the Journal of Virology that studied the effect of fasting in hepatitis B-infected transgenic mice found that fasting increased viral load and production of hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg). Other reports suggest that hepatitis B viral production in the liver is strongly influenced by a person’s nutritional intake.

Bottom line: Hepatitis B patients with liver damage should not fast, and “healthy” people living with chronic hepatitis B should talk to their doctors before embarking on any kind of fasting program.

Courtesy of Pixabay.
Courtesy of Pixabay.

Does fasting help us lose weight and reduce the risk of “fatty liver?” No. Nearly all medical experts agree fasting is not a healthy way to lose weight. When you fast, you lose fluid quickly, and your weight comes back quickly as soon as you start drinking water and hydrating yourself again.

Many experts say fasting makes it harder to lose weight because it slows your metabolic rate so you process food slower. While fasting during daylight hours for Ramadan may not pose a medical risk if you’re healthy, if you go for long periods without eating, your immune system weakens and isn’t able to suppress a hepatitis B infection effectively.

“A weight loss program that works should include proper nutrition, exercise and portion control,” explained Dr. Gish. He has designed a weight loss guide and contract for patients and doctors that offers guidelines for achieving healthy, long-term weight loss. Dr. Gish’s dieting recommendations include:

  • Keep a diary of everything you eat;
  • Exercise three hours a week;
  • Eat five small meals a day (150 to 200 calories each) using tea cup saucers for plates with no second servings;
  • And, use glass cups or bottles for drinks, instead of plastic bottles that may contain toxic bis-Phenols (BP).

Will fasting “detox” your body or liver? Most doctors say no. There there is no scientific evidence that shows fasting removes toxins from the body or the liver, because our organs are already very adept at doing that very effectively.

The liver, for example, is a natural detox center as long as it gets the water and nutrients needed to perform the job. Toxins don’t build up in the liver, it’s the liver’s job to break them down and dispose of them. Toxins can build up in fatty tissue, however, which is why a sustained, long-term weight-loss plan involving exercise and a healthy, low-fat diet is recommended.

Hepatitis B Foundation Executive Director Joan Block Steps Down, But First Shares Her Love Story

Tim and Joan Block
Tim and Joan Block

By Joan Block, RN, BSN, Executive Director and Co-Founder

The story of the Hepatitis B Foundation is a love story that’s never been told. In June, I will retire after 25 years of service, so now feels like the right time to share my personal story.

In 1987, I was diagnosed with hepatitis B. I had just married Tim (co-founder and president of the foundation and its research affiliate, the Baruch S. Blumberg Institute) when my doctor suggested I get tested for hepatitis B because I was born in Korea.

We were devastated by the diagnosis. As a young nurse in the 1980s, the only hepatitis B patients I knew were dying of liver failure or liver cancer. They were kept in isolation rooms where I had to wear a gown, gloves, and mask to even provide them with basic care.

This was a dark and scary time for us. There was nowhere to turn for information or support, and no available treatment. The prospect of our life together was overshadowed by fear and uncertainty.

My husband Tim, a research scientist, took immediate action by changing his focus to hepatitis B and began the quest to find a cure. We reached out to our close friends, Paul and Jan Witte, and together we decided to create a nonprofit organization dedicated to finding a cure for hepatitis B and helping those affected.

In 1991, the Hepatitis B Foundation was officially established. A quarter of a century later, the foundation has grown from a grassroots effort into the world’s leading nonprofit research and disease advocacy organization solely dedicated to hepatitis B.

Joan M. Block, Co-Founder and Executive Director
Joan M. Block, RN, BSN, Co-Founder and Executive Director

There are many reasons why I waited so long to share my personal story. At first, it was fear and shame. The stigma of having an infectious disease was strong, even though I had acquired hepatitis B at birth. Later, I wanted to keep the focus on the mission of the foundation, not on my personal story.

Today, however, I realize that there is a compelling need for people like myself to publicly share their stories. We need to break the silence around hepatitis B. Personal stories are a powerful tool to increase awareness, decrease stigma and end discrimination.

Although I am stepping down as executive director, I will continue to be passionately involved in advancing the foundation’s mission to find a cure. I will also use every opportunity to personally give voice to the more than 257 million people affected by hepatitis B worldwide.

If more of us can stand up and say without fear or hesitation, “I have hepatitis B,” then we will indeed contribute significantly to making hepatitis B history!

Thank you.

In recognition of Joan’s dedicated service, the Board of Directors has created the Joan Block Improving Lives Fund of the Hepatitis B Foundation. This fund will enable the foundation to advocate powerfully to increase research funds for a cure, end discrimination against those affected, and increase screening, prevention and care to save more lives from hepatitis B.

To honor Joan’s valuable legacy, please make a donation at our secure website by clicking here.

Ten Things Women and Mothers Can Do to Combat Hepatitis B

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

By Christine Kukka

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Infected and pregnant? Protect your baby from hepatitis B.

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

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

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

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

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

Renseley and her husband.
Renseley and her husband.

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

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