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Newly Diagnosed with Hepatitis B? How Did I Get this? Learning the HBV Transmission Basics

If you have just been diagnosed with hepatitis B virus (HBV) then you need to understand how HBV is transmitted. This is important whether you have an acute or chronic infection.  You must understand you are infectious and can transmit the virus to others.

How is hepatitis B transmitted? Hepatitis B is transmitted through direct contact with blood and infected body fluids. This can happen through direct blood-to-blood contact, unprotected sex, unsterile needles, medical or dental equipment, and from a HBV infected mother to her baby at birth.  For kids, pediatric experts report that the fluid that oozes from cuts and open sores is also highly infectious, so keep those open cuts covered. HBV can also be transmitted inadvertently by the sharing of personal items such as razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers, body jewelry and other personal items that have small amounts of blood on them.

Hepatitis B is not transmitted casually by sneezing or coughing, shaking hands or sharing or preparing a meal.  In fact HBV is not contracted during most of life’s daily activities. You don’t need to keep cups and utensils separate. Hugging, or even kissing won’t cause infection unless there are bleeding gums or open sores during the exchange. It’s really all about trace amounts of infected blood, though the virus is in other bodily fluids in lower concentrations.  For example, it’s not about the saliva on the toothbrush that is a big concern, but rather the potential for trace amounts of blood that could be exchanged with a shared toothbrush.

How did I get this? If you have been diagnosed with hepatitis B virus you are likely racking your brain trying to figure out how you could have gotten HBV.  Some can immediately track their likely exposure to a recent event, or perhaps a time period in their life where they were more likely to have been exposed. They may fit into an at-risk category for hepatitis B due to lifestyle choices, country of origin, frequent travel and exposure in endemic areas of the world, or an unsafe blood transfusion, or medical or dental procedures performed without proper infection control. Some may never know how they were infected. What is important is that you are now aware.

Since HBV is a silent infection there can be years before it is detected.  Many individuals born in endemic parts of the globe find out later in life that they are hepatitis B positive, even though they have likely had HBV since birth or early-childhood. Children are especially vulnerable to chronic HBV. Greater than 90% of babies and up to 50% of young children infected with HBV will remain chronically infected, and most will have no symptoms.  Often it remains undetected until it is caught in routine blood work or later in life after there is liver inflammation or disease progression. In Asia, vertical transmission from mother to child is particularly common; whereas in Africa, horizontal transmission at a young age may be more likely.

Although not casually transmitted, there are inadvertent opportunities for exposure to hepatitis B. If you are from an area where HBV is very common, then the odds of exposure, transmission, and infection will be higher. Many are surprised when family is tested, and they learn hepatitis B appears to “run in their family”.  Hepatitis B is not genetic, but it is very easily passed from an HBsAg positive mom to her baby at birth. Hep B is a vaccine preventable disease, but not all moms living with the virus have access to the birth dose for their baby or able to complete the vaccine series, or they have a high viral load resulting in failure of HBV birth prophylaxis. The good news is that today we can prevent the transmission of hepatitis B to the next generation.

If you do, or have participated in high-risk activities at some point in your life, you are also at greater risk. This is not a time to judge or be judged.

Time to move forward. Unless your infection is acute and you can definitively identify your exposure, I would advise that you let it go and move forward. I spent a number of years wondering about the details of my daughter’s infection, but ultimately, it really didn’t matter. What is important is seeing a doctor to learn more about your infection, getting treatment if you need it, and preventing transmission to others.

Join the Conversation at the Hep B United Summit; Watch Summit Sessions On Facebook Live!

The annual Hep B United Summit, organized by the Hepatitis B Foundation, convenes in Washington D.C. from Wednesday, July 25 through Thursday, July 26. National and local coalition partners, experts, stakeholders, and federal partners will meet to discuss how to increase hepatitis B testing and vaccination and improve access to care and treatment for individuals living with hepatitis B.

You can watch many of these sessions on Facebook Live. You can also follow the conversation at the Summit on Twitter with #Hepbunite!

Facebook Live is live video streaming available to all Pages and profiles on Facebook. Check out the agenda below and go to the HepBUnited Facebook Page to view the live broadcast. Some breakout sessions may be broadcast from the Hepatitis B Foundation Facebook Page. Sessions will also be available following the broadcast for those who are not able to join us live.

Here are the details on the sessions that will be broadcast on Hep B United’s Facebook Live unless noted otherwise:

Day 1 – Wednesday July 25:

8:30 – 9:00 AM:  Welcome and Introductions
Tim Block, PhD, President & Co-founder, Hepatitis B Foundation and Baruch S. Blumberg Institute
Chari Cohen DrPH, MPH, Co-Chair, Vice President for Public Health and Programs, Hepatitis B Foundation
Jeff Caballero, MPH, Co-Chair, Hep B United and Executive Director, Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations (AAPCHO)

9:00 AM:  Applying a Health Equity Lens to Eliminating Hepatitis B
Tamara Henry, Ed.D., Teaching Assistant Professor, Prevention and Community Health, he George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health

9:30 AM:  Hep B United Coalition: Year-in-Review
Jacqueline Coleman, MEd, MSM, BA, CPC, Facilitator, Vision Que!, LLC Kate Moraras, MPH, Director, Hep B United and Senior Program Director, Hepatitis B Foundation

11:15 AM:  Know Hepatitis B Campaign and Expansion to African Immigrants
Cynthia Jorgensen, DrPH, Team Lead and Sherry Chen, MPH, CHES, Health Scientist, Division of Viral Hepatitis, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Sierra Pellechio, BS, CHES, Health Outreach Coordinator, Hepatitis B Foundation

1:00 PM:  Federal-Community Partnership to Eliminate Hepatitis B
Moderator: Chari Cohen
Panelists:
Matthew Lin, MD, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health, HHS Office of Minority Health
Corinna Dan, RN, MPH, Viral Hepatitis Policy Advisor, HHS Office on HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy
Paul J. Wiedle, PharmD, MPH, CAPT USPHS, Acting Director, Division of Viral Hepatitis, CDC National Center for HIV, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention
Sarah F. Schillie, MD, MPH, Division of Viral Hepatitis, CDC National Center for HIV, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention
Nancy Fenlon, RN, MS, Public Health Advisor, Immunization Services Division, CDC National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases
Judith Steinberg, MD, MPH, Chief Medical Officer, Bureau of Primary Health Care, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)

2:30 PM – 3:45 PM:  BREAKOUT SESSIONS I

Preventing Perinatal Hepatitis B Transmission
Moderator: Amy Tang, MD, Hepatitis B Program Director, Charles B. Wang Community Health Center
Panelists:
Ruth Brogden, Center for Asian Health at Saint Barnabas Medical Center/New Jersey Hep B Coalition
Janice LyuMS, Charles B. Wang Community Health Center
Liz TangLMSW, New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene

Combating Hepatitis B-Related Stigma and Discrimination (Hepatitis B Foundation Facebook Live)
Moderators: Nadine Shiroma, Policy Advisor, Hepatitis B Foundation and Rita Kuwahara, MD, MIH, Hepatitis B Policy Fellow, AAPCHO

4:00 PM – 5:00 PM:  BREAKOUT SESSIONS II

Expanding Hepatitis B Screening to Other High-Risk Communities
Moderator: Arman Altug, Hepatitis Education Project (HEP)
Panelists:
Jack Hildick-Smith, Philadelphia Department of Public Health
Thaddeus Pham, Hep Free Hawaii/Hawaii Department of Health

Discuss strategies in reaching new partners to increase hepatitis B screening, vaccination and linkage to care.

Developing Innovative Practices in Hepatitis B Education and Screening  (Hepatitis B Foundation Facebook Live)
Moderator: Catherine Freeland, MPH, Public Health Program Manager, Hepatitis B Foundation
Panelists:
Brandi Dobbs, FNP-BC, CNS-CH,Asian Services in Action, Inc.
Karen Jiobu, Asian American Community Services
Layal Rabat, MA,Asian Pacific Community in Action
Xuan Phan, Mercy Housing and Human Development

Share results from the Hep B United Mini Grants Program.

 Day 2 – Thursday July 26

9:00 AM:   Improving Access to Hepatitis B Treatment
Wayne Turner, Senior Attorney National Health Law Program (NHeLP)
Sierra Pellechio, BS, CHES, Health Outreach Coordinator, Hepatitis B Foundation
Lauren Su, Hepatitis B Foundation

10:30 AM: Increasing Provider Knowledge about Hepatitis B
Richard Andrews, MD, MPH, Co-Chair, National Task Force on Hepatitis B MPH, and Medical Director, HOPE Clinic
Amy Tang, MD, MPH, Co-Chair, National Task Force on Hepatitis B and Hepatitis B Program Director, Charles B. Wang Community Health Center

1:30 PM:   Achieving Health Equity to Eliminate Hepatitis B
Facilitator: Cynthia Jorgensen

Not able to join the sessions with Facebook Live? Follow the conversation on Twitter using the #Hepbunite hashtag. Follow the events, retweet and engage with event attendees and help us raise hepatitis B awareness in the U.S. and around the globe.

World Hepatitis Day is July 28th, and this Summit is a terrific opportunity to share with the world what we’re doing to help those living with hepatitis B in our communities. Other popular hashtags for World Hepatitis Day, and to raise hepatitis B awareness, include: #NOhep, #KnowHepB, #WorldHepatitisDay, #WorldHepDay, #WHD2018, #FindTheMissingMillions #hepatitis, #hepatitisB, #HBV, #hepB, #justB. Connect with, follow and engage with fellow partners and advocates on twitter to keep the hep B conversation going during the Hep B United Summit, World Hepatitis Day events, and beyond.

Check out: @AAPCHOtweets, @AAHC_HOPEclinic, @AAHI_Info, @AAPInews, @apcaaz, @APIAHF, @ASIAOHIO, @CBWCHC, @cdchep, @cpacs, @HBIDC, @HBIMN15, @HepBFoundation, @HepBpolicy, @HepBProject, @HepBUnited, @HepBUnitedPhila, @HepEduProject, @HepFreeHawaii, @HHS_ViralHep, @MinorityHealth, @njhepb, @NVHR1, @nycHepB, @NYU_CSAAH, @sfhepbfree, @supportichs @wahainitiative @jlccrum

Missing from the list? Contact the Foundation at info@hepb.org to be added.

Don’t forget to join the World Hepatitis Alliance’s  #FindtheMissingMillions  Thunderclap to encourage people to get tested on World Hepatitis Day. Participate in the Hepatitis B Foundations World Hepatitis Day video and tell the world why you think people should be tested for hepatitis B.

Still have questions? Email us at info@hepb.org and we’ll help you get started!

Visit the Hep B United and Hepatitis B Foundation websites for more information about hepatitis B and related programs.

Recently Diagnosed with Hepatitis B? Getting Through the Next Months Waiting to Confirm if Your Infection is Acute or Chronic

Have you recently been told you have hepatitis B?  Dealing with the diagnosis and waiting out the next six months to determine if your infection will resolve itself or learning that it is a chronic infection can be nerve-wracking.

Fortunately, greater than 90 percent of healthy adults who are newly infected will clear or resolve an acute hepatitis B infection.  On the hand, greater than 90% of babies and up to 50% of children infected with hepatitis B will have lifelong, chronic infection. Sometimes people are surprised to learn they have a chronic infection. It can be confusing since there are typically few or no symptoms for decades. If a person continues to test hepatitis B positive for longer than 6 months, then it is considered a chronic infection. Repeat testing is the only way to know for sure.

Acute hepatitis B patients rarely require hospitalization, or even medication.  If you are symptomatic, (some symptoms include jaundice, dark urine, abdominal pain, fever, general malaise)  you may be anxiously conferring with your doctor, but if you are asymptomatic, you might not feel compelled to take the diagnosis seriously.  Ignoring your diagnosis can be very serious. If you have concerning symptoms like jaundice (yellow eyes and skin), a bloated abdomen or severe nausea and vomiting, please see your doctor immediately. Your doctor will be monitoring your blood work over the next few months to see if you clear the virus, or monitoring your liver if there are concerning symptoms.

Your job is to start loving your liver …today.  STOP drinking alcoholic beverages.  Refrain from smoking cigarettes.  Your liver is a non-complaining organ, but you cannot live without it.  Make your diet liver-friendly and healthy filled with a rainbow of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, fish and lean meats. Minimize processed foods, saturated fats and sugar.  Drink plenty of water.

Talk to your doctor before taking prescription medications, herbal remedies, supplements or over-the-counter drugs.  Some can be dangerous to a liver that is battling hepatitis B.  Get plenty of rest, and exercise if you are able.

Don’t forget that you are infectious during this time, and that loved ones, sexual partners and household contacts should be tested to see if they need to be vaccinated to protect against hepatitis B.  Sometimes family members or close household contacts may find that they have a current infection or have recovered from a past HBV infection.  If anyone fears exposure ensure them that hepatitis B is not transmitted casually. They should get tested, and vaccinated if needed, and take simple precautions. Remind them that 1/3 of the world’s population will be infected with the hepatitis B virus during their lifetime.

On the flip-side… Do not let this new hepatitis B diagnosis consume you.  As the weeks and months pass, you might find that the infection is not resolving, and you might worry that you have a chronic infection.  The associated stress and anxiety can be challenging, even overwhelming.  It can contribute to physical symptoms you may be experiencing.  Find a family member, friend, or health care professional with whom you can share your concerns.

If you are told you have recovered from an acute HBV infection (you are now HBsAg negative, HBcAb positive and HBsAb positive) be sure to get copies of your lab reports to ensure there are no mistakes. Compare them with our easy to use blood tests chart.   If something looks wrong, or if you’re confused, speak up and ask your doctor. Once confirmed be sure to include hepatitis B as part of your personal health history. This is important in case you have conditions later in life that warrant monitoring.

No one wants to learn they have chronic hepatitis B but it is a manageable disease. You’ll want to see a doctor with experience treating chronic HBV so they can run additional tests. There are very effective treatments available, though not everyone with chronic HBV needs treatment. All people living with chronic HBV benefit from regular monitoring since things can change with time. Please do not panic or ignore a chronic hepatitis B diagnosis. Take a deep breath and get started today learning more about your HBV infection and the health of your liver.  Things are going to be okay!

If you are confused about your diagnosis, please feel free to contact the Hepatitis B Foundation at info@hepb.org.

Join a Twitter Chat: Organizations Share Highlights From Hepatitis Awareness Month

Join Hepatitis B Foundation, NASTAD and CDC’s Division of Viral Hepatitis for a Twitter #HepChat at 2 p.m. (EST) Thursday, June 14. The chat will highlight Hepatitis Awareness Month outreach events and allow hepatitis B and C partner organizations to share their successes, challenges and lessons learned from their efforts. HBF’s Kristine Alarcon and Jason Crum, this month’s featured storyteller will also be LIVE on Facebook, so if you’re not on twitter join us at hepbfoundation.

Continue reading "Join a Twitter Chat: Organizations Share Highlights From Hepatitis Awareness Month"

What to do about hepatitis B when you’re pregnant?

Around the world, the most common mode of hepatitis B transmission is from mother to child. Unfortunately, pregnant mothers who have hepatitis B can transmit the virus to their newborn during the delivery process. 90% of these HBV infected babies will progress to chronic infection  putting them at increased risk of serious liver disease or liver cancer later in life.

It is important that ALL pregnant women get tested for hepatitis B to prevent the transmission of the virus to newborns at birth.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all newborns born to hepatitis B positive women be given two shots in the delivery room – the first dose of hepatitis B vaccine (5 mcg dose) and one dose of hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG, 0.5 mL dose). If a woman knows that she is infected, it is important that she tell her doctor to have these two drugs available when she is ready to deliver. These two shots must be given at separate injection sites, i.e. different limbs. When administered correctly within the first 12 hours of life, a newborn has a 95% chance of being protected against a lifelong hepatitis B infection. The infant will need to complete the hepatitis B vaccine according to schedule as part of a 3 or 4 dose series. CDC recommends follow up testing to confirm immunity or protection against HBV at 9 months or at the baby’s 1 year checkup.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends the birth dose of the hepatitis B vaccine for ALL babies, though it is especially important for a baby born to a woman with hepatitis B to receive the first dose of the vaccine as soon as possible, within 24 hours. HBIG may not be available in all countries or may be cost prohibitive. The hepatitis B vaccine series may be completed with the remaining monovalent  (single) injections of the HBV vaccine, or may be completed as part of a combination vaccine series.

In developing countries combination vaccines such as the pentavalent vaccine are often given to babies. The first dose of the pentavalent vaccine (which includes hepatitis B vaccine) is given at 6 weeks of age, and the 2nd and 3rd doses are given at 10 and 14 weeks of age. Waiting for the first dose at 6 weeks is too late for babies born to mothers living with chronic hepatitis, though the pentavalent vaccine should never be used as the birth dose or before 6 weeks. Women who know they have hepatitis B should talk to their doctor about ensuring that a birth dose of the hepatitis B vaccine is available for their baby at birth.

There is no second chance!  It is vitally important that we protect all newborns from hepatitis B!

Also, all infected pregnant women need to learn more about their hepatitis B infection from a liver specialist or a doctor with experience treating patients with chronic hepatitis B. It is recommended that pregnant women have their hepatitis B monitored throughout their pregnancy, to check the health of their liver and to see if they need treatment. For HBeAg positive women with high hepatitis B viral loads, taking FDA-approved antivirals during the last trimester can reduce the amount of virus in the blood and help prevent the chance of transmission to the newborn. Once an infected woman gives birth, it is important that she routinely see her doctor to keep monitoring her hepatitis B infection. Keeping mothers healthy allows them to better take care of their families!

For more information, or if you live in the U.S. and need help with hepatitis B infection during pregnancy, please visit the Perinatal Hepatitis B Prevention Program to find a coordinator near you. If you are outside of the U.S., you may consider visiting the World Hepatitis Alliance to find if there are organizations in your country that can ensure your baby starts with a birth dose of the hepatitis B vaccine.

Visit our website for additional information!

The 3-Shot Hepatitis B Vaccine – Do I Need to Restart the Series if I Am Off the Recommended Schedule?

The Hepatitis B vaccine is a safe and effective 3-shot series that protects against the hepatitis B virus.  If you do not have a current hepatitis B infection, or have not recovered from a past infection, then hepatitis B vaccination is an important way to protect yourself. The recommended schedule for the hepatitis B vaccine is to receive the first shot, followed in one month by the second shot.  Six months following the first shot, you should receive your third and final shot of the series.

If you wish to ensure you have generated adequate immunity, and are protected, you can have your anti-HBs (HBsAb) titres checked 4-8 weeks following the last shot of the hepatitis B vaccine series.  If your titer is greater than 10 mIU/mL, then you have adequate immunity which is thought to confer lifetime immunity, but studies so far show 30 years.  This is because these studies are on-going!

Please note that checking anti-HBs titres is not generally recommended for all vaccine recipients, with the exception of those that are at greater risk of infection.   This includes but is not limited to health care workers, those with sexual partners with hepatitis B, and those living in a household where someone is infected. Talk to your doctor if you think you might be at higher risk and need to have your titres checked.

So what happens if you go for shot one, followed by shot two in a month, but you never get to shot three?  The minimum length of time between the three shots in the series is 0, 1 month, and 6 months.  There is an accelerated schedule, but this is the schedule recommended for the shortest amount of time, with the best immune response for the general population.  However, if you don’t get to shot three of the series for another two years, or if you never got to shot two, you can resume right from where you left off, and continue without the need for repeating the series.

Here is a rule to remember the minimum time in between shots in the series:

Dose 2 should be separated by dose 1 by at least one month (4 weeks or 28 days)

Dose 3 should be separated by dose 2 by at least 2 months (8 weeks) AND from dose 1 by at least 4 months (16 weeks).

Keep in mind that the goal is to get people protected in the shortest amount of time, with the fewest number of doses. If you do not complete the series, you will not have adequate, longterm protection from hepatitis B.

What happens if you don’t have your vaccine records, and you have no idea if you ever got shot 1 or 2, and you just want to repeat the series? There is no concern with repeating the HBV vaccine series, so if you are unsure, please start the series from shot 1.

What happens if you are pregnant; is it safe to get vaccinated? Absolutely yes!

Be sure you and your loved ones vaccinated are against hepatitis B so you can be hepatitis B free for life!

Who’s at Risk for Hepatitis B? Learning the Hep B Basics

 

Are you or someone you know at risk for hepatitis B? You might be more at risk than you think, and since hepatitis B is vaccine preventable, it makes sense to get tested and vaccinated for HBV.  Hepatitis B is the number one cause of liver cancer worldwide. The survival statistics for liver cancer are particularly grim, with a relative 16,6% 5-year survival rate.  The hepatitis B vaccine also protects against hepatitis delta, the most severe form of viral hepatitis.

It is important to note that everyone is susceptible to hepatitis B. It does not discriminate.  It infects, babies, children, teens, adults and seniors. It has no racial or religious bias, though it is certainly more prevalent among certain ethnic groups –mainly because it is endemic to the homelands of these communities. For example, if you look at the prevalence map for hepatitis B, you will see that in most of the world, hepatitis B is at an intermediate, (2-7%) or high HBsAg prevalence (>8%) level.  Looking at the numbers, 2 billion people in the world, that’s 1 out of 3 people, have been infected with HBV and 257 million are chronically infected. That represents three-quarters of our world. Even if you aren’t living in these parts of the world, you may be traveling to some of these areas for work or pleasure, or perhaps your parents and other family members were born in HBV endemic areas.  Since there are often no symptoms for HBV, and screening and vaccination may be lacking in some populations, HBV is transmitted from one generation to the next, with many completely unaware of their HBV status – until it’s too late.

People at risk for hepatitis B include the following: (not noted in a particular order)

  • Health care providers and emergency responders due to the nature of their work and potential for exposure.
  • Sexually active heterosexuals (more than 1 partner in the past six months)
  • Men who have sex with men (MSM)
  • Individuals diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease (STD)
  • Illicit drug users (injecting, inhaling, snorting, pill popping)
  • Sex contacts or close household members of an infected person (remember, you may not know who is or is not infected)
  • Children adopted from countries where hepatitis B is common (Asia, Africa, South America, Pacific Islands, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East) and their adopted families
  • Individuals emigrating from countries where hepatitis B is common (see above)
  • Individuals born to parents who have emigrated from countries where hepatitis B is common (see above)
  • ALL pregnant women – because infants are so vulnerable to HBV (90% of infected infants will remain chronically infected, and HBV is very effectively transmitted from infected mother to baby.)
  • Recipients of a blood transfusion before 1992
  • Recipients of unscreened blood and blood products – sadly an issue in many parts of the world.
  • Recipients of medical or dental services where strict infection control practices are not followed – sadly another issue in parts of the world.
  • Kidney dialysis patients and those in early renal failure
  • Inmates of a correctional facility
  • Staff and clients of institutions for the developmentally disabled
  • Individuals with tattoos and body piercings performed in a parlor that does not strictly adhere to infection control practices – it may be up to you to ensure proper infection control practices are followed.
  • People living with diabetes are at risk if diabetes-care equipment such as syringes or insulin pens are inadvertently shared.

The good news is that hepatitis B is a vaccine preventable disease. There is a safe and effective, 3-shot HBV vaccine series that can protect you and your loved ones from possible infection with HBV.  The earlier you are vaccinated, the better. In the US, a birth dose of the vaccine is recommended for all infants, since these little ones are most vulnerable to hepatitis. (90% of infected infants will live with HBV for life). HBV vaccination doesn’t give you a free-pass from other infectious diseases such as HCV or HIV, both without vaccines, so strict infection control practices should still be followed. However, HBV is a tenacious virus that survives outside the body for a week and is 50-100 times more infectious than HIV  3-5 times more infectious than HCV.  Plus the HBV vaccine is actually an anti-cancer vaccine, so why not get vaccinated?

Hepatitis B isn’t casually transmitted, but in the right scenario, it is effectively transmitted. You may think that situation may never come about for you, or for your loved ones –especially your little ones who are so vulnerable to HBV. Some people travel to exotic lands with unsafe blood supplies and poor infection control practices, and sometimes they get sick, or require emergency dental or medical services, so they may be put at risk. Most people have had a lapse in judgment – sometimes it’s a one-time thing, sometimes it lasts for years, but the net-net is that it’s unusual to find someone who has not engaged in some sort of high-risk activity, whether intentionally or unintentionally. If you are properly vaccinated to protect against hepatitis B, you can cross that concern off your list.

B sure. Get screened. if you do not have HBV, get vaccinated and be hepatitis B free. If you discover you have HBV, talk to your doctor and have him refer you to a liver specialist who can better evaluate your hepatitis B status and your liver health.

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. In fact 90% of babies and up to 50% of young children infected with HBV will have life-long infection. This is a complicated topic, but basically their immune systems are immature. That is why young babies and young children may have high viral loads, but little or no damage. The immune system gets tricked and the virus replicates unchecked in liver cells.  That is why hepatitis B vaccine series, starting with a birth dose, 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 recovered from 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 later 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.

Diagnosed With Hepatitis B? Symptoms? Learning the HBV Basics

The tricky part about hepatitis B symptoms is that there are often no symptoms. That is why hepatitis B is referred to as a “silent infection”. This can be a little confusing to people newly diagnosed with HBV – whether it is determined you have an acute or chronic infection.

If you have a new, acute infection, there is a good chance you will be one of the roughly 69% with no notable symptoms. You may feel a little under-the-weather or a little more tired then usual, or you may notice no difference at all. You may learn about your infection through blood work following a possible exposure, or following screening from a blood donation. Since 90% of adults infected with hepatitis B will clear the infection – most with no medical intervention, it is possible for you to be infected, clear the virus, and never even know until blood work shows evidence of a past infection.

Then again you may be one of the roughly 30% who do have symptoms. You may experience flu-like symptoms such as achy muscles and joints, a low-grade fever and fatigue. Because your liver plays a role in digestion, you may experience a loss of appetite, feel a little nauseous, or experience pain in the upper right quadrant of your abdomen. You may have dark, tea colored urine. Then again, these symptoms may not be so severe that you take much notice. It’s okay, because these symptoms typically do not require treatment. However, if you are symptomatic, or you are concerned, please see your doctor, so blood tests can be run to be sure your liver is safe.

Here are the important symptoms that you need to have checked-out immediately: jaundice, severe nausea and vomiting, and bloating or swelling of the abdomen. If you have any of these symptoms, you need to seek immediate medical attention. Your doctor will want to run blood work, which will likely need to be repeated while you are symptomatic and as you recover, to monitor your condition and be sure you are safe. At this time, your doctor will determine the next steps –perhaps you will need to be admitted to the hospital for fluids and observation if you are severely dehydrated, or more likely, you’ll recover at home with regular lab work and follow-up with your doctor.

If you notice that your skin or the whites of your eyes are yellow, then you are suffering from jaundice. This is due to a build-up of bilirubin in the blood and tissues. Your liver is an amazing organ and one of its responsibilities is the filtering out of your body’s bi-products or other toxins from your blood, maintaining them at healthy levels. Jaundice is very unsettling to those that have it because it is noticeable by others. Normal coloring will return once the body is able to rid itself of the buildup of these toxins.

Although rare, (approximately 1%) acute hepatitis B can result in life-threatening, fulminant hepatitis, which can lead to liver failure. Fulminant hepatitis requires immediate medical attention.

The other possibility is that you are actually chronically infected, and that your infection is not new. You may have been living with HBV since birth or early childhood. Your hepatitis B infection may be a complete surprise to you.  You might ask, “How could I have this infection all of these years and not even know it?” Once again, HBV is a silent infection.  For those chronically infected, obvious symptoms may not occur for decades. The liver is a hard-working, non-complaining organ, but you don’t want to ignore your HBV and put yourself at increased risk for cirrhosis, liver failure or liver cancer. Believe it or not, the sooner you learn about your HBV infection, the better, so that you get regular monitoring, seek treatment if necessary, and make lifestyle changes that are good for your liver and overall health.

Whether you have symptoms or not, there are a few things you need to remember. You must go back to your doctor for further lab work to determine if your HBV infection is acute or chronic. If you are still surface antigen positive (HBsAg+) after 6 months, then you have a chronic infection and need to see a liver specialist to learn more about your hepatitis B infection. The other thing you must do is take precautions so you do not transmit hepatitis B to sexual partners and close household contacts.  And finally, be sure to take care of your liver by eating a well-balanced diet, avoiding alcohol, and talk to your doctor or pharmacist about prescriptions or OTC drugs that may be hard on your liver.