Hep B Blog

Category Archives: Living with Hepatitis B

Hepatitis Transmission Risk in Hair and Nail Salons – An HBV Perspective

The American College of Gastroenterology wrapped up its annual meeting in Washington, D. C. this week. A few of the topics discussed apply to those living with hepatitis B or the prevention of HBV and other blood-borne pathogens.

Hepatitis Transmission Risk Needs to be Studied in Nail Salons and Barbershops is a press release that discusses a new analysis presented at this year’s annual ACG conference. It looks at your favorite nail and hair salon and barbers shop and discusses the risk of infectious disease transmission. Since HBV is more infectious than both HIV and HCV, it would seem the transmission of HBV might be higher. There is not a great deal of conclusive data out there, but they agree it warrants further study.

Practically speaking, certain shop activities could provide a vehicle for transmission of HBV and other blood-born pathogens if adequate precautions are not followed. Fortunately there is a safe and effective vaccine for HBV, but not for HCV and HIV. No one wants an infectious disease, and if you are living with HBV, you don’t want to be co-infected with another viral agent.

For those living with HBV, it is recommended that personal care items such as nail files, clippers, and tweezers NOT be shared.  At your favorite nail salon, it is possible that “tools of the trade” such as nail files, cuticle pushers, nail buffers, brushes, clippers, are not single-use, or properly disinfected. Microscopic droplets of blood could readily transmit infectious disease.  Even items such as finger-bowls and foot basins need to be properly disinfected.

At this time, there are no OSHA or CDC guidelines for infection control practices for nail and hair salons, and barbershops. They are all state regulated. Please check out this guide to regulations for nail salons, listed state-by-state. Unfortunately there was not a similar guide pulled together for hair salons and barber shops.

It is important to know what is expected at your nail salon in your state, and determine whether or not you are adequately protected. The next concern is whether or not disinfection practices are followed by the shop, and enforced by state inspectors.  You should be able to figure some of this out by spending a little time in the shop, or by asking. If you feel like you’re getting a great deal at a discount nail salon, think again of the hidden risks with a shop that does not disinfect, or use single-use items.  Many shops will maintain personal nail care tools for individual customers.  This is the way to go – whether you bring in your own tools or store them at the shop.

Here’s what you can do to help protect yourself and others:

  • Bring your own tools.
  • If you have cuts, bug bites, or a skin infection, do not get a manicure or pedicure.
  • Is there an autoclave in the shop?  If not, are the instruments properly sanitized or disposed of? How about the foot spas? Are they disinfected in between clients (10 minute cycle) and is the footbath intake filter cleaned weekly? You’re probably not sure, so ask!
  • Do NOT shave your legs immediately prior to a pedicure appointment.  Shaving increases the risk of infection
  • Use your own cutting and filing tools.  Some nail salons will keep tools of regular customers on-site.
  • Avoid credo blades or sharp instruments used for shaving calluses.
  • Reconsider cutting your cuticles
  • If the shop is clearly dirty, leave.  If the “tools of the trade” look dirty or messy, leave. This applies to both hair and nail salons or barbershops.

Your goal is to avoid shop activities that increase the risk of infectious disease transmission.  Basically this means the dispersal of any microscopic blood or body fluids.  Accidents happen, and many are unaware they have a blood-borne pathogen infection. You can also get a nasty bacterial and fungal infections, so a clean shop with proper disinfection practices is imperative for so many reasons.

The same thing goes for the hair salon and barber shop.  Avoid obvious activities that might lead to the transmission of infectious disease. If the shop is poorly maintained, dirty, or disorganized, go somewhere else. If you are having problems with your scalp that causes scabs or bleeding, wait to get a haircut, but remember that others might not do the same.  You want to be sure that hair care items are free of debris (hair and skin) and properly disinfected. This video from the Department of Regulatory Agencies for the state of Colorado (DORA) gives very thorough disinfection instructions, but I find it hard to believe that all of these procedures are being followed in all shops.

If you are a man, consider whether or not it is really wise to get a shave at your local barber.  Many shops no longer perform this service, although it is more common in other cultures. If yours does provide a shave, and you partake, be sure the razor handle is properly sterilized between customers, with a new razor used for each. Razors are such an effective mode of HBV transmission, so be aware.

Keep in mind that if you have HBV and enjoy getting your nails done on a regular basis, or visit the hair salon regularly, please be aware of the fumes emitted from the various chemicals in nail and hair products. Many of these fumes are not liver-friendly, so if you must, please be sure to frequent a shop where there is good ventilation.  Fortunately there are greener alternatives out there, but not all shops are using them. Good ventilation is key.

When my kids were little, I discouraged all nail polish for my little nail-biter, and toluene free polish when I relented.  Now there are better alternatives for everyone, so take advantage of them.

So next time you step into your neighborhood nail or hair salon or barbers shop, take a look around and make sure you are satisfied with the conditions.  There are some form of infection control and disinfection practices in place, but are they being followed?  You might just have to ask!

 

Living with HBV and Dealing with “Itchy” Skin

The previous Hepbtalk blog discussed skin manifestations associated with hepatitis B and liver disease. This is a follow-up with some suggestions on dealing with rashes and pruritus (itchy) skin. Unfortunately, I have experience with this.

Most people living with HBV have episodes with rashes that itch, or with an itch without the rash. Rashes can be caused by all kinds of things, but the skin truly does let us know when there is something going on with our body. We may not be able to eliminate the itch, but we can work on providing the body with a little relief, and to be sure we do not do anything to make the persistent itching worse.

First, consider the root of the problem. It is possible that your rash and itching are unrelated to the current status of your HBV infection.  Unless you have serious liver disease, this might be difficult to pin down since many living with chronic HBV have compensated livers that perform all of the necessary liver functions required for life.  That does not mean you aren’t going crazy with itchy skin, but it is important to look at other factors that may be contributing to your pruritus.

  • Are you currently being treated with IFN or PEG for your HBV?
  • Have you recently started a new medication?
  • Do you have allergies, seasonal, food or otherwise?
  • Do you have other symptoms that might relate to another virus or infection?
  • Have you recently switched laundry detergents or rinses?
  • Have you recently switched any of your personal care items – shampoo, soap, creams, deodorant, etc.

Try to determine if there is a pattern associated with your skin problems.  Any of the above can cause rashes or pruritus without the added complication of HBV or advanced liver disease from HBV. I was convinced that HBV was the root of all skin problems, but I was wrong. That’s why it’s good to look at other possible sources so you can at least eliminate the things you have control over.

Here are some simple things you can do to help reduce the degree of pruritus:

  • Choose products that are unscented including laundry detergent and dryer sheets, along with shampoos, conditioners, creams and other personal care items. Unscented products are better for you liver, anyway. Everyone in my house is clean, but there is no fresh, clean smell.
  • Avoid soaps and use gentle skin cleansers like Cetaphil (another favorite in our house).
  • Use moisturizers that contain a minimum of alcohol, since alcohol is drying.  There is sometimes a balance with thick vs. thinner creams. We bounce back and forth between Cetphil and Eucerin, but you might have to test a few of them before you find the one that works best for you.
  • Take tepid rather than hot showers and baths, but be sure to bathe daily.
  • Wean your kids out of the tub ASAP.  This broke my heart, but the extra time in the bath is drying.  (However, oatmeal baths are recommended, even though this didn’t work for us). Don’t spend too long in the shower.  Learn to take a 5 minute shower.
  • When you come out of the shower, do not completely dry yourself, and immediately apply gentle cream or lotion from head to toe to lock in the moisture.
  • Use topical steroids in order to combat affected skin patches.  For kids we found the ointment, though a little messier, was more effective. Take care when topicals are used for extended periods of time.  It thins the skin, which can be especially problematic in the summer. Don’t forget sunscreen, too!
  • Keep nails cut short to avoid the temptation.  We even tried gloves and socks at night.  Try to avoid scratching with sharp objects, but be sure to properly sanitize them if they are used inappropriately. We often had concerns with “weepy” skin and needed to keep it covered in public.
  • If you choose to add humidity during the winter months be careful to balance that with possible dust mite allergies.  We initially used warm mist humidifiers and that was a big mistake, even though it feels great.  Unfortunately it took us a while to make that link.  As it turns out, a more moderate temperature is better – that and additional circulation with a ceiling fan.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water
  • After swimming in a chlorinated pool, be sure to rinse immediately and apply moisturizer.
  • Pruritus is worse at night, so take an anti-histamine like Benedryl or prescription Atarax to help with the itching.  Atarax is effective for a longer period of time, so it’s a favorite in our house.

Although the “itching” in our house brought many tearful nights, and nasty looking skin patches that persisted for years, it did get better over time, with changes. It is important to note that is was much worse during treatment with interferon. Pruritus truly is a horrible, sometimes unrelenting symptom for those with more advanced liver disease.  Although the above ideas are worth investigating, it is important that you discuss severe pruritus with your doctor.  There are more potent prescriptions available that might help reduce the relentless itching.

Got any tips for reducing the itch? Feel free to comment and share your ideas with others living with HBV.

Got HBV? What is Your Skin Trying to Tell You?

The liver is the largest solid organ in the body, and your skin is the largest organ.  It only makes sense that the skin may be a window into what is going on inside your body and your liver.  The problem is trying to figure out what your skin is trying to tell you!

The most common skin manifestation associated with “hepatitis” is the yellowing of the skin (jaundice) and the sclera, or white part of the eye.  Jaundice  may be associated with a newly acquired or acute hepatitis B infection.  It certainly gets your attention and gets you to the door of your doctor, which is a good thing.  However, keep in mind that HBV is often asymptomatic, with few or no obvious symptoms, and jaundice is a more severe symptom of an acute HBV infection. Jaundice may also occur in those with advanced liver disease, and a decompensated liver. Jaundice is due to an accumulation of bilirubin, a yellow pigment, in the blood and tissues.  Your liver is responsible for controlling the levels of bilirubin.  If your liver is having problems performing basic, yet essential functions, yellow skin, eyes, dark urine, and itching (pruritus) may all be due to an inability to filter excess bilirubin.  Please see your doctor immediately if you experience jaundice of the skin or eyes.

It is also not uncommon for those with more advanced liver disease such as cirrhosis to have palmar erythema, which presents like red palms –especially around the base of the thumb and little finger.  Keep in mind that there may be other reasons for experiencing red palms, such as high blood pressure, pregnancy, or elevated estrogen levels. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns.

Spider nevi or spider angioma are another indicator of more serious liver disease. These are not to be confused with spider veins. It is also important to note that 10-15% of healthy adults and children have spider nevi, with no underlying disease. They range in size from 0.5 to 1 cm in diameter, with a dark center, radiating out to fine, red lines. When the center is depressed with the finger, the radiating lines disappear, and then re-appear, when the finger is lifted. Spider nevi may be caused by an increased level of estrogen in the body.  Naturally these may also appear during pregnancy, and in women using oral contraceptives. Following pregnancy and the discontinuation of contraceptives, the spider angiomas will disappear on their own. Like so many basic, but essential functions, the liver is responsible for breaking down and removing excess estrogen. Spider nevi associated with liver disease tend to be large in number and appear on the upper part of the body, face, and neck – especially on the backs of the hands and arms. Once again, it is a good idea to point out these out to your doctor.

Gianotti-Crosti Syndrome is a rash associated with HBV and EBV (Epstein Barr Virus). This rash almost always occurs in children, with 90% of kids under the age of four. The rash may last from two to eight weeks. Basically, it’s just a response to a virus, and nothing to worry about – just an indicator. Kids often have a rash for one reason or another.  If the rash is excessively itchy, talk to your pediatrician about using a topical steroid. Every parent of a child with HBV is convinced their child has some sort of HBV associated rash. (Speaking from experience…) Even the pediatric liver specialist was unsure, so she got a consult with a pediatric dermatologist.  The rash was unrelated to HBV.

Wondering about your finger nails?  There’s a condition called Terry’s Nails which is present in many of those with cirrhosis. The nail appears mostly white, similar to the appearance of “ground glass”, and possibly with a little pink strip at the top of the nail bed.  This is due to a decrease in blood flow to the nail bed and an increase in connective tissue.  Remember that your doctor will not be able to see any of this if you wear nail polish to your appointment.

How about your basic rash that is associated with hepatitis B?  Rashes are most often associated with acute hepatitis B infections, although a recurring rash may occur in those chronically infected.  Talk to people living with HBV and they’ll tell you they have occasional rashes and annoying itching, even if their doctor may tell them they do not.  Could be totally unrelated, or it could be erythematous papular lesions, or palpable purpura.  In other words, your basic red or purplish, raised, bumpy rash. It’s not easy to find specific information linking your basic rash to HBV, but when you consider how the skin is a window to your general health, it makes sense that you may see skin manifestations that reflect your immune system response to your HBV infection as it cycles through various stages, phases and flares.

If you are living with HBV, you know the importance of monitoring your HBV status and your liver health.  Annual, bi-annual, or the schedule recommended to you by your liver specialist, will keep you on top of what is going on with your HBV and any associated liver disease.  However, it is good to take notice of any changes in the skin and nails as the liver is a non-complaining organ.  Sometimes we have to look for evidence that something is going on. That being said, I feel the need to rush to a mirror and check myself out after having researched and written this blog.  The skin may be a window to our general health, but it is not always easy to figure out what it’s trying to tell us. If you have any questions, don’t try to self-diagnose. Talk to your doctor and bring any of your concerns to his attention.

Thoughts on Disclosure for Children with Hepatitis B

If you are a family with a child with HBV, or a family considering the adoption of a child with HBV as a special need, it is important to consider how you will manage your child’s hepatitis B information. As an adult you are making your own personal disclosure decision, but when you are dealing with your child’s personal information, it is a decision that needs to be made with the entire family to be considered. Think long and hard. Once this information is out, you cannot take back.

Something that I did not truly consider when we were making this decision was the fact that this was not really my information, but rather my child’s information. Our child was a baby at the time. We could not know her personality, and what kind of a person she would become with time. We were fully immersed in the baby scene, and were not even thinking about the teenage years. Little did I know that teens have an opinion about everything. My kids lost interest in discussing their adoption story at the store check-out by the time they entered elementary school. Certainly no one wanted to be the adopted kid with hepatitis B. No one wanted to be the adopted sister of the adopted kid with HBV. I cannot speak for other kids, but that was the case with our own children. In general, kids want to blend.

Initially we were concerned about sending the wrong message to our children by not disclosing this information. There should be nothing to hide, so we forged ahead with our information in a couple of small, selective circles. These were carefully chosen groups, nothing permanent like our neighborhood, since we could not afford to move if there were repercussions. Disclosure was abruptly halted after a confrontation with the early intervention team at our home school. Had we not been under the advisement of counsel, I fear the situation would have resulted in a breach of information we might not have been able to contain. I have heard similar stories from other adoptive parents, and it makes me cringe every time.

Parents are fiercely protective of their children – especially when they are young. I have heard heart-wrenching stories of broken friendships, neighbors that no longer speak, and the distancing of family members, all over the disclosure of information that perhaps should not have been imparted. But who knows who will be accepting and tolerant, and who will refuse to let your child play next door? Sadly, people lack basic information about HBV, and even in the U.S., there is a stigma associated with infectious diseases. They do not know anything about HBV, or how it is transmitted. They may not even be aware that their child is vaccinated against hepatitis B. They may choose to err on the side of caution, and choose not to have your child play with their child.

Although we made a family decision to not disclose, there were people that we chose to tell. Disclosing to family did not go the way I had expected, and I’m glad there are a few states between us. Fortunately with time and distance, people forgot about it, because they never fully understood it from the beginning. Disclosure to selective friends worked for us, but there were few that were told. We disclose to all treating physicians.

On the pro-disclosure side, I am aware of families that have disclosed their child’s HBV information and it works well for them. They are pleased with the support they receive from friends, school, church and family. They have made the decision to educate and raise awareness as a family. I commend that. Perhaps I am even a little envious, because that is how it should work! Unfortunately it did not work well for our family, where we live. Now that my daughter is in high school, she is okay with her HBV status. Fortunately she’s not truly “out there” with her information, but she has contributed in her own way to raising HBV awareness in selective circles.

To disclose or not to disclose, it’s a family decision. Think about it, and do what is best for your entire family.

To Disclose or Not to Disclose, That is the Question

Choosing to disclose, or not to disclose your hepatitis B status is a very personal decision.  The key thing to keep in mind is that once this private information is out, it cannot be reeled back in.  It’s best to stop, and give it serious thought before you move forward with your decision.

Being diagnosed with a chronic illness can be overwhelming.  Many are shocked by their HBV diagnosis. Some have been living with HBV since birth, but because it is often a silent infection, with few to no symptoms, they are surprised they are infected.  Others may have no idea how they were infected. A support network of friends, family and loved ones is important at this time.  Sadly, your news may elicit a variety of responses, from loving support to complete avoidance.  Unfortunately, there is often a stigma associated with HBV.  People are afraid of what they don’t understand, and most are ignorant about infectious diseases.  It’s something that happens to someone else.  Little do they know that HBV does not discriminate.

Here are some important points to consider:

  • Location – Where do you live?  If you live in a large city or community, you may be able to better pick and choose who learns of your HBV status. In a larger community you may have a little more flexibility to move around, or make changes if your HBV disclosure is a problem.  If you live in a small town, with few employment opportunities, and a hand-full of nosy neighbors, you might want to think long and hard about telling anyone in your community.
  • Family – Only you know your family.  Depending on your ethnic background, there may be a cultural stigma associated with having HBV. Break the news gently and be prepared to supply easy-to-understand information. Remember there is the possibility that you acquired your HBV infection at birth, and other family members may be at risk and need to be tested.
  • Work – Unless you are symptomatic and missing work due to your HBV, it might be a good idea to keep your hepatitis B status under wraps.  In many countries, an HBV infection destroys careers.  Even subtle discrimination can ruin your reputation at work.  If you require time off due to HBV, be sure to take it up with human resources.  Your information will be kept confidential.
  • Sexual partners – It is more important than ever to ensure you are having protected sex if you are not in a monogamous relationship. If you have HBV, you do not want a coinfection with another infectious disease like HCV or HIV.  Insist on protection, and use a condom.  You owe it to yourself and your partner(s).  Be sure any significant others are vaccinated.  If you believe they have been exposed, then they need to be tested. The flip-side is the concern with a relationship that turns serious, where you have not yet disclosed your HBV status. This is a difficult balance.  They may be hurt or angry that you did not disclose, earlier, and yet you don’t want to enter every new relationship spilling all of your private info.
  • Friends – Friends have been made and lost over personal information such as HBV disclosure. If they can’t accept you, living with HBV, who needs that kind of friend?  This is true, as long as they will respect your privacy and choose not to disclose your private information to others. Take a good look at your friends, and remember that many really are acquaintances.   Acquaintances do not need to know the details of your HBV status.  It’s your choice who you decide to tell.
  • Medical professionals – All health care providers must practice infectious disease protocols and standard precautions.   It keeps everyone safe.  That being said, it is important that your doctor is aware of your status.  He is making treatment decisions and prescribing medications that could effect your liver health. HIPAA regulations will keep your private information protected at medical offices.
  • Support groups – It might be difficult to find a traditional hepatitis B support group, but there are wonderful on-line HBV support groups out there.  This is a great environment to query others living with HBV about who they choose to tell and not tell.  It helps to hear it from others that truly understand what you are going through.  Friends and family may love you, but it’s very possible they won’t fully understand what you’re going through.   As the newness of your HBV diagnosis wears off, I can promise that things will get better.  Give yourself a little time….

Disclosure truly is a personal decision. There is no right or wrong answer.  Much depends on your personality and what you can live with. When you make the decision to disclose, you need to make the commitment to educate.  This is admirable because it takes courage to stand up, raise awareness, and be out there with your personal story.  The response from others may surprise you – for better or for worse!  Just remember that before you decide to disclose, you had best be informed.  Educate yourself, so you can educate others on the HBV basics and help raise awareness.  Let friends know  how HBV is transmitted.  Encourage hepatitis B vaccination. Arm yourself with simple explanations.  Your goal is not to scare your audience, but rather raise their awareness of those living with hepatitis B.  Remember it’s your decision, but take your time…

Living With HBV and Drinking Coffee

The pros and cons of drinking coffee have been wildly debated for years.  However, for those with Hepatitis B and other liver diseases, the addition of a couple of cups of coffee per day to slow down the progression of liver disease, along with decreasing the risk of diabetes and heart disease just makes sense.

Dr. Melissa Palmer was a guest speaker at a previous Hepatitis B Foundation patient conference. The information from her presentation had all sorts of nutritional nuggets for those with HBV (Check out Dr. Palmer on podcast if you would like to have a listen!) She stated, based on studies, that coffee and caffeine intake has been associated with improvements in liver ALT and AST levels.  There also seems to be a correlation between increased coffee consumption and warding off cirrhosis and HCC.

Just recently there are was an article that discussed the benefits of coffee for those patients with HCV, undergoing treatment with pegylated interferon (PEG) and ribavirin therapy.  It claimed that drinking three or more cups of coffee a day not only reduced some of the difficult side-effects associated with treatment of PEG, but it also increased the treatment success.  However, like so many of these coffee studies, it was a small study and had to be adjusted for other factors.

We all know that HBV and HCV are very different viral infections, but you have to wonder if any of the benefits of coffee that is seen in those being treated for HCV can be extrapolated to include those with HBV being treated with Pegylated interferon or antivirals.  Dr. Palmer did mention that coffee did seem to have a greater impact on those with hepatitis C, although I have no idea why.

Regardless, if you’re living with HBV, you have to think about the pros and cons of adding coffee to your daily list.  Since all studies seem to show an increased number of cups of coffee having a more positive impact on preventing liver disease progression, or warding off cirrhosis or potentially reducing PEG side effects or benefiting treatment, you have to consider just how much caffeine you can take.  It does not appear that caffeine is the only factor involved, but rather the coffee bean itself and associated antioxidant features.  This seems to be the case because tea, despite all of its benefits, does not appear to have the same protective effect on the liver.

What about decaffeinated coffee?  I kept looking to see if it was specifically referenced, but I haven’t seen it. However, during the decaffeinating process, much of the bean is lost, and it may be treated with a chemical solvent, both which might nix the positive benefits.  If you’re going to give decaffeinated coffee a try, consider a coffee with a more natural decaffeinating process. Personally, I’d have a tough time balancing the jitters and racing heart rate associated with drinking more than a cup or two of high-test coffee a day, but we’re all individuals.  If you can drink coffee and sleep well at night, it seems like it can’t hurt your liver health to add a few cups to your daily regimen.

Having HBV and Using Immunosuppressants

Studies have shown a direct danger of HBV reactivation for those patients that were previously HBV infected, currently surface antigen-negative (HBsAg -), and using ‘biological response modifiers’ (ex. Rituximab, which has a black box warning).  These patients may be under-going treatment for lymphoma, rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowl or other serious diseases.  Dangerous reactivation of hepatitis B can be prevented by the simultaneous, prophylactic  treatment with HBV antivirals.  Guidelines exist for screening patients, and the need for prophylaxis is understood, but unfortunately not known or followed by all treating physicians. This is a real danger to the patient, and can result in a fatal outcome.

The topic of general immunosuppressant use has come up repeatedly at previous HBF hepatitis B patient conferences among those currently living with hepatitis B. Patients took it upon themselves to ask the experts what they thought because they were constantly on alert for things that might impact their HBV status.  Immunosuppressants are drugs that are used to treat all kinds of acute and chronic conditions.  They tamp down the immune response by suppressing it.  This could be problematic for someone with HBV, because the virus  may replicate readily with the immune system suppressed. The evidence is out there for hard-core long-term immnosuppressants or targeted therapy as noted above,  but there’s not much out there about the general use of steroids for those with HBV.  It’s worth thinking about, and having the conversation with your liver specialist because we are always looking for ways to avoid further liver injury.  Here are a list of typical steroids that many of us use while living with HBV. They are listed top to bottom, from the least concern to greater concern.

  • Topical steroids – (least concern) creams or ointments applied to the skin for things like eczema and other dermatitis
  • Steroid inhalers – used for asthma and other respiratory related conditions
  • Oral steroids – numerous uses, varying doses, varying duration of use
  • IV steroids – May be given during surgical procedures as necessary or prophylactically, or in an emergency

There is little concern about steroids that are applied topically or delivered through an inhaler.  These may have other issues or potential side effects when used long term, but they should not affect your HBV status. We struggled with this one in our household, as potent prescriptions were prescribed and the topicals were applied daily for l-o-n-g periods of time. Discuss this with your doctor if you have concerns, but keep in mind that it should have no impact on your HBV.

The oral dosing of steroids will vary greatly by the condition, and then by the prescription, dosing and duration of use. If you are considering use of oral immunosuppressants, especially extended use, then don’t forget to remind your prescribing physician about your hepatitis B. They may not always recall that you have HBV.  Have the converstion with your liver specialist about your HBV status, whether or not you’re currently being treated, and the new immunosuppressive  drug you are to be prescribed.  Weighing the pros and cons will be dependent on an individuals’ HBV status. You want to be sure you’re safe!

Talk to your liver specialist about his thoughts on IV steroids and their use during surgical procedures.  Our liver specialist told us to avoid IV steroids if possible, although in the event of an emergency, the acute emergency trumped any HBV concerns. I also learned that steroids are sometimes given prophylactically for some types of surgical procedures. One surgeon, highly regarded in his field, was aware of the patient’s HBV status.  However, he was not an HBV expert and had never considered the prophylactic dose of steroids he typically used. We were in agreement, that if it did not appear to be needed, then it would not be used.  Once we had the discussion, I was content with his decision. If a situation arose requiring the use of IV steroids then I would know that the benefits of having the steroid outweighed any potential risk to the current HBV status.

Please don’t be afraid to be your own hepatitis B advocate.  Most doctors are not HBV experts. They’re experts in something else!  If you have concerns about immunosuppressants or other forms of treatment, then bring up the topic at your next visit with your liver specialist.  Then you’ll have the information you need so you can discuss these topics with other doctors, should the need arise. Keep a file of pertinent articles to reference, and the the contact information of your liver specialist in case your doctor would like additional input on a particular topic.

 

Got Hepatitis B? Keeping loved ones safe through HBV vaccination

If you just found out you have hepatitis B, or if you are adopting a child with HBV, you will want to ensure that all household and close contacts are properly vaccinated to prevent the transmission of hepatitis B.

Hepatitis B is not transmitted casually, so no need to worry about shaking hands, kissing, hugging, changing diapers and daily living.  HBV is transmitted in blood and body fluids, such as sweat, semen and saliva. However, the amount of virus in sweat and saliva are significantly lower, so the likelihood of transmission is far less.  It requires direct contact of infected blood or body fluid to an open sore (from microscopic to gaping), mucous membrane or orifice.  It is also transmitted sexually and via personal care items such as razors, toothbrushes, tweezers and clippers that may contain microscopic blood droplets.

Household contacts and loved ones are at greater risk of contracting HBV due to the daily logistics of life.  And of course accidents happen.  HBV may transmitted by borrowed razors, or accidentally touching infected blood. Getting vaccinated is the best way to keep everyone HBV free for life.

The hepatitis B vaccine is a safe, and effective, three-shot-series that protects you from HBV.  Typically when you get your HBV vaccine, you do not return to ensure that your vaccine was successful in generating an adequate immune response.  However, if you are living with a loved one with HBV, if would be good to ensure that you are protected.  All it takes is one follow-up blood test.  Ask your doctor to run a quantitative hepatitis B surface antibody test (HBsAb).  Often HBV antigen/antibody tests are run qualitatively, which means you get a positive/negative or reactive/non-reactive response.  When you get a quantitative HBsAb test, it will tell you how much surface antibody you have.  An adequate titre is a value greater than 10 mIU/mL.  The key is to ensure that you have been tested at the right time.  Keep in mind that you could also have a standard, qualitative surface antigen test run because it will not be reactive unless it is greater than 10.  However, I have found that most people like to see the number if it’s an option.

This test needs to be run four to six weeks following your last shot of the three shot series.  If your titre is greater than ten, then you are protected for life.  If your titre is less than ten, negative or non-reactive, then you will need to repeat the series.  It is recommended that you try a vaccine made by a different pharmaceutical company for the second round.  For example, if your first vaccine series was completed using the Engergix B vaccine, then you would want the second series to be done with the Recombivax HB vaccine the second time. Following this second series, you will again need to be tested 4-6 weeks following the last shot of the series.

Approximately 5-15% of people are considered non-responders if they complete two series of the vaccine and do NOT produce an adequate immune response.  Sometimes age and weight can contribute to difficulty in building adequate immunity.  And of course each person’s immune system is unique, so there will always be some that do not generate adequate immunity for no known reason, while others with a suppressed immune system may also have difficulty.  The final thing to consider is whether the person considered a non-responder actually has HBV.  If you fall into this category, please be sure ask that your doctor test you for surface antigen (HBsAg), along with an HBV viral DNA test.

Vaccination is always preferable because it’s just easier.  However, with simple changes a “non-responder” parent or loved one can dig right into life’s daily goings-on!  Follow simple precautions to keep you and your family safe.  There aren’t vaccines available for everything, so it never hurts to play it safe.

For those that had their HBV vaccines years ago, but were unable to test within the four to six week window, don’t be alarmed if your titres are below ten, or if you do not have a positive or reactive HBsAb value.  It is recommended that you repeat the series (you might see a little variation in viewpoints between booster vs. 3-shot-series) and then be tested within the four to six week window to ensure you have adequate titres.

At this time, HBV booster shots are not recommended, regardless of when you were vaccinated.  You may find years later that your surface antibody is no longer reactive, or is below ten, but you know that it was adequate after the 4-6 week period following your vaccination. Do not be alarmed.  Our amazing immune systems have something called immune memory, which continues long after detectable antibody in the blood.  Simply put, you may not have a lot of HBV antibodies circulating in your system, but if you happened to be exposed to HBV after your titres had waned, your immune system would go into over-drive in order to protect you from an exposure.  As long as you once built up an adequate response, you are free from HBV for life!

Got HBV? Adding Vitamin D to Your Diet

Do you have hepatitis B, and are you considering adding vitamin D to your diet?  Adding vitamin D seems to be a win-win for those with liver disease since it is a potent immune modulator, appears to aid in the prevention of cancer, and other potentially related disorders such as NAFLD, along with Type I and II Diabetes, glucose intolerance and metabolic syndrome.  Before you make any big additions, be sure to talk to your doctor or liver specialist to ensure it’s safe for you with your current health status.

Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin (needs a little fat to digest), versus a water soluble vitamin, that is ultimately stored in the liver.  There are pros and cons to this.  Fat soluble vitamins are not necessarily needed on a daily basis as they are stored in fatty tissues and in the liver making it available for longer periods of time.  Vitamin D is specifically stored in the liver. Unlike water soluble vitamins, excesses are not excreted through urine on a daily basis. That makes the balance a little trickier because you don’t want vitamin D accumulating in the liver and causing toxicity. Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include osteomalacia, or softening of the bones, or perhaps less obvious bone pain and muscle weakness. Symptoms of vitamin D toxicity may include decreased appetite, nausea,vomiting, excess calcium blood levels or an accumulation of calcium in soft tissues. Too much of a good thing is NOT good for you!

Current guidelines for vitamin D intake are 600 IU or 15 mcg per day. (See table for age specific info). Natural sources of vitamin D in foods (vitamin D2, or ergocalciferol) are hard to come by, but they are out there.  Mega sources include fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and tuna.  Cod liver oil is an excellent source, which is probably why we see old movies with mom spooning cod liver oil into the mouths of young children! In the U.S. many dairy products, and others such as cereals, or orange juice are fortified with vitamin D and other vitamins. (There’s a great reason for the fortification of dairy with vitamin D – absorption is enhanced in the presence of calcium.) It is also found in smaller amounts in egg yolks. Naturally all of this needs to be balanced with the concerns of farm raised fish and possible exposure to PCBs, or mercury levels found in tuna, pollution of our oceans, raising your cholesterol levels due to focusing on the yolks, possible toxic levels of vitamin A with cod liver oil  (in Western countries where foods are fortified with vitamin A), or simply the bad, fishy taste associated with cod-liver oil. It’s a tough balance, but it’s important to work through some of the risks versus benefits in your own mind.

Sunshine is another readily available source of vitamin D (vitamin D3, cholecalciferol), but you need to be sure to balance it with the risk of over-exposure to the sun’s rays. And of course in the north, during the winter months, it may be difficult to get adequate sunshine to boost your vitamin D levels. You can get adequate sun exposure with 10-15 minutes in the sun, 3-5 times per week, with the exposure of face and arms. Naturally this will vary based on the sun’s intensity, how much skin is exposed and each individual’s skin tone, since the amount of necessary sun increases with the amount of melanin (pigment) in the skin.  Just to confuse matters, a recent study shows a possible link of higher levels of vitamin D to non-melanoma skin cancer, even though higher levels are thought to reduce the risk of basal cell cancer. Clearly more studies need to be done, but until that time, just keep reminding yourself that balance is important.

Sometimes it’s tough to get adequate vitamin D levels from natural sources such as food and sunshine, so there is the option for vitamin D supplements. This is where my anxiety levels intensify. Bad enough I have to worry about my food sources – PCBs from farm raised fish and such things, but now I have to choose a supplement – perhaps cod liver oil in a liquid or capsule that I can take daily.  Will it be in a form that is able to be absorbed?  (There’s a debate on the true benefit of cod liver oil once it is processed.  The same argument might apply to many available supplements.) How will I know this?  Will I break the bank trying to purchase these supplements?  I started to do the research on vitamin D supplementation, but like so many supplements, it’s very complex.  I always feel like I’m being sold. Using supplements is a personal thing. My personal preference would be to get my vitamin D through the foods I eat, and a short duration of sunshine.  However, I currently have adequate levels of vitamin D, so whatever I’m doing seems to be adequate.  That’s the key: tailoring your decisions based on you, your family history, or ethnicity and things you might be prone to such as a vitamin D deficiency, or other issues.

Please don’t forget to talk to your PCP and your liver specialist before drastically changing your vitamin D intake.  This is especially important if you are currently undergoing treatment for HBV.  Your doctor may wish to get a general baseline of your vitamin D levels, and continue to monitor them if there are problems.  Your doctor may be uncomfortable recommending a specific supplement since there is little or no regulation. Heed her advice before moving forward, and if you choose the supplementation route, be sure to do your homework to get the best quality product that is readily absorbable, without causing toxicity.

Be sure to take a look at last week’s blog on Vitamin D here.

Hepatitis B and Vitamin D

Vitamin D is essential for everyone, but how might vitamin D help those living with HBV? Vitamin D is especially important for children and older adults, as it aids in the body’s absorption and regulation of calcium and phosphorus, which helps form and maintain healthy bones and teeth.  Vitamin D is also a potent immune modulator, and aids in the prevention of hypertension, and cancer. Vitamin D levels appear to play a critical role in type I and type II diabetes, glucose intolerance, and metabolic disorders.  Studies have also shown a link between low vitamin D levels and NAFLD (Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease), independent of metabolic syndrome, diabetes, or insulin-resistance profile (for those without HBV). The lower the vitamin D level, the higher the risk for NAFLD, or fatty liver disease.  The liver plays such an integral part in digestion, regulation, storage, and removal of toxins – the list goes on.  You can’t live without it!  As a result, it seems logical that healthy levels of vitamin D would benefit those living with HBV, if adequate vitamin D levels help reduce the risk of NAFLD, metabolic syndrome, etc.

Vitamin D is a potent immune modulator.  It has been on the radar for the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases for years. If you are being treated for HBV, you may want to discuss the potential benefits of adding vitamin D to your current therapy.  It has been shown to benefit hepatitis C patients undergoing treatment.  There is currently a clinical trial in Israel looking into the possible benefits of adding vitamin D supplementation to hepatitis B patients undergoing Peginterferon, or treatment with nucleotide analogs.

While researching this blog, I ran across a couple references that mention Fanconi’s Syndrome and vitamin D.  This is interesting since Fanconi’s Syndrome may be acquired as a result of HBV treatment with tenofovir.  Fanconi’s Syndrome and supplementation with vitamin D is also mentioned on the Mayo Clinic site.  The problem is there are no studies that definitively discuss the benefits of vitamin D supplementation for those living with HBV.  I am no doctor, but there seems to be a connection between vitamin D and good liver health.

Start by talking to your doctor or liver specialist about the pros and cons of considering additional vitamin D in your diet. Request that your vitamin D levels be tested so you get a snapshot of your current levels. I had my girls’ levels checked.  They were adequate, but I regretted having them tested during the summer break when they are outside more often. I wonder how this reflects on their levels in the winter when they are rarely outside?  Food for thought.

The 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH) D) blood test is used to measure serum levels of vitamin D. Normal serum levels, indicated by the Institute of Medicine (NIH), are 50 nmol/L (20 ng/mL) or greater.  Low levels are under 30 nmol/L (12 ng/mL).  See detailed charts for age specific requirements. There are all kinds of reasons for inadequate levels of vitamin D, so it is important to follow up with your doctor if your results are out of the normal range.  You may require additional testing.

It is important to maintain a balance and use common sense when considering supplementing your diet with Vitamin D.  Vitamin D is essential, but too much of a good thing can be dangerous to your health. Be sure to keep your doctor in the loop – especially if you are currently undergoing HBV treatment.

Check out Thursday’s blog for those looking for vitamin D details and sources.