Hep B Blog

Category Archives: Hepatitis B Prevention

Gearing up for World Hepatitis Day!

World Hepatitis Day is July 28th!  What are you doing to raise awareness and educate others about hepatitis B?  I asked this on HBF’s facebook page, and a friend from Ghana wondered what he could do to help raise awareness.  Another friend replied about his concern with HBV in Malawi.

When you consider the scope of hepatitis B, globally, it is indeed sobering.  Statistically, two billion people have been infected with hepatitis B worldwide, and 400 million are chronically infected.  Don’t let these numbers discourage you from your efforts.

When I returned from China in 2003, my heart was heavy with the burden the Chinese people experience on a day-to-day basis, living with HBV.  At the time I was providing infectious disease training for specific groups of Chinese people, but of course in the scheme of things, the outreach effort seemed minimal when compared to the burden.  I had to focus my efforts one-person-at-a-time.  I couldn’t let the sheer numbers discourage me from my mission to educate and raise HBV awareness at any level.

If you have the money or the connections to do something in a big way, that is wonderful.  Then many will benefit from your contribution.  However, I think it is important to note that hepatitis B education and awareness is fundamentally carried out at a grassroots level, where small numbers of individuals band together to make a difference.   Organizations like the Hepatitis B Foundation are crucial due to their ability to reach out and impact larger numbers of people through research, outreach, education and increased HBV awareness.  Utilize their website, social media channels and outreach to gain and share educational information, and help raise awareness.

So what can you do as an individual?  First thing you need to do is get educated on viral hepatitis.  There is much confusion among people about how HBV is transmitted.  If you mention hepatitis B, someone will invariably say, “oh yes.  My uncle got that from eating contaminated food!”  Well, he did get NOT hepatitis B from food!  Know the ABC’s of viral hepatitis, and eliminate these myths.  Hepatitis B is not spread casually, or by sharing a meal, hugging or kissing someone with hep B.  However, HBV is non-discriminating, and we are all vulnerable if we are not vaccinated.

Learn the facts about HBV.  Know some of the statistics, and how it is transmitted.  Know the difference between an acute infection vs. a chronic infection.  Know that 90% of adults will clear an acute infection, while 90% of infants infected will surely live with hepB for life.  Be sure safe injection and medical practices are followed in health care settings.

To raise awareness and eliminate confusion, you don’t have to know the details of surface antigens, antibodies or how to interpret blood test results.  You can look that up on HBF’s website!   This detailed info comes with time.  Start with the hep B basics.  If you are educated, you can educate others.

Learn about the HBV vaccination.  Know that if you are in a high risk group, you should be screened before you are vaccinated.  The vaccine doesn’t work if you already have hepB!  If you are not infected, then get vaccinated.  Let everyone know why vaccination is necessary.  Encourage pregnant women to be screened for HBV.  Ninety percent of  mother-to-child transmission of HBV can be eliminated by ensuring an infant receives a birth dose of the hepatitis B vaccine, followed by the other two shots in the series.  If HBIG is available to newborns of infected mothers, that is even better.

Many believe that hepatitis B will not affect them because they may not have symptoms. They do not realize HBV is a silent epidemic.  They may not realize the importance of their non-complaining liver, and how HBV can destroy it over time.

If you or loved ones have HBV, be sure you are vaccinated for Hepatitis A.  Take care of your liver and abstain from alcohol and tobacco use.  Eat a healthy diet, and practice safe sex.  Practice standard precautions.  Use common sense!

Now for the outreach part… Depending on your hep B status, you might be reluctant to share your new found information with everyone.  Start with your family, friends and household contacts.  They may not understand the global significance of HBV.  It’s okay to start small.

If you’re ready to increase your effort, then reach out to your church, and your community.  Join with others and participate in local city or village health center and community awareness events.  Join an HBV support group, and if you’re interested, create a language specific group for your country.  Volunteer, speak out, and help educate the masses of people who are unaware that HBV is truly a silent epidemic.

Together we can make a difference!

Sending Your Child to Camp with HBV

Got a camper in your house with HBV?  Are you concerned about filling out the mountain of paperwork associated with sending your child off to a day camp, or over-night camp this summer?  The paper work is not consistent from camp to camp, and quite often probing health questions may be asked.  If you’re a parent with a child with HBV, seeing it in print will likely be unnerving.

Camp forms will have a health history section which may start with the following:

Does the camper have a history of any of the following?  Check all that apply.

A long list of conditions including things like asthma, diabetes, migraines, surgery, and physical disabilities may be on the list, along with the possibility of “other” accompanied by a blank-line.  It is also possible there will be a box specifically for hepatitis B.

Personally, I would NOT check the “other” box, nor would I list hepatitis B on the line following “other”.   I would also NOT check the box if the medical history specifically refers to hepatitis B, or viral hepatitis.  I would also not consider my child’s liver biopsy as a “surgery”. There is NO need to offer up unnecessary information that does not pertain to the safety of your child’s camp experience.

Here is my thinking.  A condition like diabetes, asthma, or even allergies may well require acute care while the camper is at camp.  A nurse or staff person may be responsible for administering medication for this acute condition.  Children with hepatitis B are rarely symptomatic and have compensated livers. They can take prescribed or OTC drugs you and your doctor have noted on the paperwork.  The likelihood of an emergency occurring due to the child’s HBV is nil, and in the event of an unrelated emergency, your child’s liver would tolerate emergency services necessary to stabilize him.  Life saving decisions would be left in the hands of an emergency care facility and ER trained staff.

There is always the concern that camp staff should be notified in order to protect them in case of accidental exposure, but I believe this is unnecessary.  We live in a small world and disclosing a child’s HBV status to camp staff may come back to haunt you.  HBV is vaccine preventable, and staff should be up-to-date on their immunizations.  Standard precautions training is a must for camp staff.  This will protect staff and all children from potential exposure to body fluids, such as blood, if protocols are properly followed. 

Because HBV and HCV are typically asymptomatic, and children are not screened prior to attending camp, you have to assume that someone else at camp will have HBV, HCV or even HIV. 

If you can’t get past concerns regarding your child and her HBV, then perhaps you need to re-consider camp for this summer.  We all have our own comfort level, and we get there in our own time.  However, my advice is to relax, fill out the forms, and send your happy camper off to camp!

Hepatitis B and Your Neighborhood Pool

Photo by Sheila http://ht.ly/6eRlt

Memorial Day marks the unofficial beginning of the summer, and with it, the opening of the community pool.  Every summer, questions regarding hepatitis B and the public pool are asked.  Typically it is those that are infected, or have children that are infected with HBV, that have concerns.  Hepatitis B is 100 times more infectious than HIV.  Does that mean you should be worried about contracting or spreading a blood borne pathogen like hepatitis B at the community pool?  Personally I don’t believe so, but there are a couple of things to consider.

If you’re concerned about a blood spill in the pool water than do not worry.  As long as you are frequenting a well-maintained pool that follows guidelines for consistently monitoring chlorine and pH levels in the pool, you’ll be fine.

Use common sense when at the pool.  Check that the water is clear, and the sides aren’t slimy. If the odor of your pool is too strong, something may be off.  Speak with management if you have concerns.  Pool staff are responsible for keeping water safe.  There are strict guidelines that must be followed.  Still have doubts?  Purchase your own pool test strips to confirm disinfecting quality of the pool.

Blood spills on the deck are a plausible transmission route for blood borne pathogens like HBV, but this hazard can be readily averted with proper cleanup.  Chlorine is a very effective agent against hepatitis B and other pathogens.  When made fresh and used in the correct concentrations, (nine parts water to one part chlorine) it kills pathogens like HBV.  As a team manager of a neighborhood swim team, I found the lifeguard slow to clean up a blood spill on deck.  The protocols are in place, but everyone needs to be vigilant to ensure they are followed.  If you have HBV and are bleeding on deck, don’t be afraid to insist that the blood spill be properly disinfected.  There’s no need to disclose your status.  These are standard precautions that should be followed for all blood and other body fluid spills.

The big culprit at the pool is swimmers with diarrhea.  Diarrhea causing germs may survive even in a well-maintained pool.    Chlorine resistant Cryptosporidium, also known as “Crypto”, is one such microbe.  One inadvertent gulp of contaminated pool water and it’s possible you, too, will contract diarrhea.  The good news is HBV is not spread via contaminated water, or the oral-fecal route.  Know the ABC’s of viral hepatitis!  Keep little ones out of the pool if they have diarrhea, make frequent swim-diaper changes, and don’t count on the plastic swim pants to keep everything in.  Oh, and don’t let the kids drink the pool water.  Parents, good luck with that one!

There are legitimate dangers lurking at the pool – a recent recall on pool drain covers jeopardize the safety of children, the risk of drowning and injury always exists, and of course there’s the risk of diarrhea causing illnesses.  Fortunately the odds of transmitting or contracting HBV are infinitesimal in a well maintained pool.  As always, remember that HBV has a safe and effective vaccine. Be sure those you know and love are vaccinated.

Beat the heat at your neighborhood pool this summer.  And finally, if your public pool looks like this… well, common sense would tell you there’s a lot more to worry about than hepatitis B!

 

Impressions of the Congressional Briefing and HHS Viral Hepatitis Action Plan Press Release

Last Thursday, May 12th, I attended the Congressional Briefing, and the Press Conference releasing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Action Plan to Prevent, Care and Treat Viral Hepatitis, in Washington D.C..  The HHS Action Plan is in response to the 2010 Institute of Medicine (IOM) report on viral hepatitis.

I have been involved with viral hepatitis, specifically hepatitis B, from a patient perspective for over a decade, but my recent involvement in the political arena is new.   So, I’m still struggling with the numerous acronyms, political calendars and jargon…

It was encouraging to see members of Congress in attendance at the Congressional Briefing – hosted by U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA), but it is clear that viral hepatitis needs more champions in Congress.  Congressional leaders who spoke included Rep. Honda (D-CA) , Rep. Cassidy (R-LA), Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), Rep. Dr. Christensen (D-VI), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), and Rep. Dent (R-PA).  Federal public health leaders Dr. Howard Koh, Assistant Secretary of Health, and Dr. Kevin Fenton, Director, National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention of the CDC  spoke regarding the direction and implementation of the plan.

Congressman Honda’s message was loud and clear to the audience:  “You need to be the megaphone.”  As advocates we need to educate and get our representatives on-board. The other, clear message is that the plan is a strategy with the tactics not yet clearly defined.  More importantly, there is no clear funding dedicated to the roll-out.  Rep. Bill Cassidy, a hepatologist, tells us we must be “fiscally responsible”, and yet he also said “Sometimes you have to increase the budget to reduce the deficit”.  Rep. Donna Christensen, also a doctor, states:  “We can save money and reduce the debt” with the viral hepatitis plan.  As a hepatologist and physician, these representatives understand that money spent on patient education, screening, prevention and treatment will be cost effective over time.  I wonder how many Representatives truly understand the ticking time bomb of this silent epidemic.

The representation at the press conference in D.C. was encouraging –everyone in the room with the same goals.   Dr. Susan Wang, a doctor in NYC spoke of her patient base where one in eight patients are infected with HBV.  Michael Ninburg told his personal story with his fight with hepatitis C, and the successful prevention of HBV from his chronically infected wife to their newborn son.  Michael was cured with the new HCV drugs, and his son was protected by a safe vaccine.  All good.

The HHS Action Plan for Viral Hepatitis will roll out through 2013.  Some of the goals are more attainable than others, such as delivering the first birth dose of the HBV vaccine to infants prior to discharge.  Dr. Koh describes this as the “first shot of life.” Administering prophylaxis and vaccination to infants born to HBV infected mothers is also feasible.  Other goals are loftier, less clearly defined, and will require significant funding.

Dr. Fenton, of the CDC, tells us the viral hepatitis plan will be implemented as a collaborative effort, leveraging resources between government agencies such as HHS, HRSA (Health Resources and Services Adminstration , CDC (Centers for Disease Control), and CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services). 

Portions of the plan are dependent on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Health Care Reform, which are under attack.  It will be important for these programs remain intact for the plan to be successful.

We are all well aware of shrinking budgets and the need to be fiscally responsible, keeping in mind the human component.  This plan cannot be implemented without collaboration and cooperation between government and community organizations and efforts, and most importantly – funding.

That’s where we, as voting Americans, fit into the equation.  We need to get educate our Representatives and Senators by raising their awareness of viral hepatitis.  We need to tell them there is a plan to combat viral hepatitis.  We need to personalize this, tell our stories, and let them know that we do NOT want funding for viral hepatitis cut from the budget.  

Was your Representative present at the briefing?  Mine was not…

Visit your Representative during Constituent Work Week.  Write a letter, send an email, call and speak to a health staffer, or tweet your Representative, today.

Read the HHS Action Plan to Prevent and Treat Viral Hepatitis.

Why Vaccinate Infants Against Hepatitis B?

Sadly, out of all age groups, it is infants and very young children that are at the greatest risk for acquiring a chronic, life-long infection with hepatitis B.  In fact 90% of babies exposed to HBV will become chronically infected, and will live with the virus for the rest of their lives.  This includes mother-to-child transmission, and horizontal transmission from close contacts.  This is why the first dose of the hepatitis B vaccine is recommended before leaving the hospital.  The vaccine is safe and effective.  Choosing to vaccinate is an option those of us with HBV infected children would have LOVED to have.

Hepatitis B is a silent disease.  Forty percent of people living with HBV have no idea how they became infected.  Others have not yet been diagnosed.   Many likely acquired it at birth, or early exposure, and have had the virus smoldering for decades.  They may find out about it in routine blood tests, or from the Red Cross following a blood donation.  Hepatitis B is non-discriminating, although it is more prevalent in certain high risk groups.   Sometimes being part of a high risk group is as simple as having a parent born in a country where HBV is endemic.  Hepatitis B is 100 times more infectious than HIV, and yet many people say they would get vaccinated against HIV if a vaccine existed.  Why not hepatitis B?

So why have your infant vaccinated at birth?  It just makes sense.  How can you be assured all house-hold contacts are not infected?  War heroes get infected, as do health care workers, and other loving family members – mommies, daddies, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  Parents go to work, and little ones go to day care.  They play at the neighbor’s house or with friends at pre-school.  Blood spills occur and sometimes they’re not properly managed, or even noticed.   Boo-boo’s come uncovered and little friends touch.  Sometimes “love-bites” are exchanged much to the dismay of parents.  Even the most vigilant parent is going to miss something.   HBV is not transmitted casually, but the possibility of exposure cannot be denied – especially at such a young age.

Hepatitis B is a poster-child for infant vaccination.  It is a tenacious virus, and there is no true cure.  If you are a pregnant woman, be sure you are tested for hepatitis B during your pregnancy.  If you are HBV positive, break the cycle One in five at-risk babies in the U.S. may NOT be receiving the necessary treatment, so SPEAK UP and ensure your baby receives prophylaxis treatment at birth.  Complete the vaccine series and have your baby tested for HBV at his one-year checkup to ensure he is protected.

If you are not HBV positive give yourself piece-of-mind.  When your baby is born, be sure to have her vaccinated before you leave the hospital, and give her a lifetime of protection against hepatitis B.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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