Hep B Blog

Category Archives: Liver

Holidays and Hepatitis B: Treat Your Liver Right

 

 

The holiday season is here! November and December are full with holidays like Diwali, Canadian Thanksgiving, American Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, and the New Year just to name a few. This time is often filled with love, happiness, and delicious food. If you or a family member is living with hepatitis B, it is important to eat mindfully during this festive time. Eating healthy is not always a possible option – not with delicious smells filling your kitchen, but you can make healthier choices! Here is a list of action items you can do to help maintain a healthy liver during the holidays:

  1. You can contribute a healthy dish – something filled with lean meats, hearty vegetables,  and is low in sodium.
  2. Try your best to avoid alcohol and go for drinks with lower amounts of added sugar.
    • Coffee has been associated with improvement in liver enzymes!
    • You can bring your own non-alcoholic beverage like a sparkling flavored drink.
  3. Choose fiber-rich foods like beets, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and beans – your plate should look colorful!
    • Click on the veggies for some delicious and healthy recipes!
  4. Stay active – take a walk with your family/someone in your COVID social circle or do a free online exercise video.

Most importantly, do not feel guilty. Try your best to make healthy choices and not over-indulge, but do not beat yourself up if you do – your next meal can be healthier!

Remember that everything you consume is filtered through your liver; your liver never gets a break! The lifestyle tips listed above may seem simple, but they can have a large, positive impact on your health. Sticking to a regular healthy routine even during the holiday season will make it easier to continue those habits all year long! You can also check out our healthy liver tips to see what other actions can be taken to protect your liver.

Author: Evangeline Wang, Program Coordinator

Contact Information: info@hepb.org

Announcing the New Current Patient Opportunities Page on the HBF Website

A new page has been created on the Hepatitis B Foundation’s website that contains a compilation of various opportunities available for people living with hepatitis B. These opportunities can be for clinical trials, other types of research, or toolkits with information and resources for those living with hepatitis B and their loved ones and community members. All of these postings are produced or organized by entities external to HBF, but all are related to improved quality of life and liver health. The first two of these opportunities are listed below.

New Tool from CME Outfitters

A new HBV Patient Education Hub has been compiled by continuing medical education company CME Outfitters. The hub includes a great deal of valuable information, such as an overview of hepatitis B, a list of questions to ask your healthcare provider, a patient guide, information about hepatitis B co-infection, doctors’ advice on what to expect from treatment, and many other resources. All information is in an engaging and accessible format. Check it out today!

New Study Opportunity Available for People Living with Itching (Cholestatic Pruritus) Due to Liver Disease or Injury

A new paid opportunity has become available for those experiencing itching caused by hepatitis B, hepatitis C, drug-induced liver injury, auto-immune hepatitis, or primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC). If you live in Canada or the US and have this condition, you may be eligible to participate in an interview to help researchers better understand your lived experience. The new research study is seeking participants ages 12-80 living in the US and Canada who are living with this itch. This is an opportunity to be involved in research and help advance scientific understanding! Contact the research coordinator for more information and to check if you are eligible. 

Please note that this study does not include treatment and pruritus must be at an intensity level of 4 on a scale of 1-10 for at least the past 8 weeks in order to participate. Patients cannot be pregnant or breastfeeding or have a diagnosis of primary biliary cholangitis. 

We are very excited to unveil this new section of our website and hope it will be a useful resource for many going forward! Please check back often, as more opportunities will be posted as they arise.

SHEA Updated Guidelines: Health Care Personnel Living Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV

SHEA Updated Guidelines on Health Care Workers Living With Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and Human Immunodeficiency Virus

 Many health care students and professionals in the U.S. are living with hepatitis B, hepatitis C or HIV. Living with these conditions should not interfere with a person’s health care education or professional career. It is important that health care students and professionals are aware of their rights and responsibilities – and equally important that health care schools and institutions are aware of their responsibilities, as well. There are now new guidelines to help institutions understand how to manage health care professionals living with hepatitis B, hepatitis C or HIV.

The Society of Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) recently updated their guidelines on health care workers who are living with hepatitis B (HBV), hepatitis C (HCV), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). These updates reflect the advances in medical technologies and the low transmission risk health care workers living with HBV, HCV, and HIV pose. It is important to note, there have been very few cases of health care personnel (HCP) transmitting HBV,  HCV, or HIV to patients. These new guidelines, which align with the CDC’s Recommendations for the Management of Hepatitis B Virus-Infected Health-Care Providers and Students, can help reduce discrimination of health care students and personnel.

Some of the important updated recommendations for health care workers living with hepatitis B include:

  • Pre-vaccination testing does not need to be done unless the individual has an increased risk of infection
  • Health care workers should have a complete vaccination series for hepatitis B. Learn more about the vaccination series
  • Health care professionals living with HBV who do not perform exposure-prone procedures should not be prohibited from participating in patient-care activities solely on the basis of their HBV infection
  • Health care personnel living with HBV should seek optimal medical management, including, when appropriate, treatment with effective antiviral agents
  • Consistent with CDC guidelines, there is no justification for, nor benefit gained from, notifying patients with regard to health care professionals living with HBV who are being managed through an institution’s oversight panel

Some of the important updated recommendations for health care workers living with hepatitis C includes:

  • Because of the opioid epidemic in the United States, consideration should always be given to the possibility of substance use disorder when health care professional-to-patient transmission of a bloodborne pathogen is detected
  • Health care professionals living with HCV should seek optimal medical management, including treatment with effective antiviral agents to achieve cure of the infection
  • Health care professionals living with HCV who received treatment resulting in ‘undetectable’ circulating HCV-RNA levels can perform exposure-prone procedures with some stipulations:
    • Has not been previously identified as having transmitted infection to patients following definitive therapy resulting in a sustained virologic response (SVR)
    • Provides the oversight panel with records and laboratory results (or permits the HCP’s personal physician to provide records and laboratory results) confirming receipt of treatment and SVR
    • Has achieved SVR by remaining HCV RNA negative for 12 weeks following the completion of therapy

Some of the important updated recommendations for health care workers living with HIV:

  • Health care professionals living with HIV and who, despite appropriate antiretroviral treatment, have a confirmed viral load >200 copies/mL should not perform exposure-prone procedures until they have achieved virologic suppression
  • Scientists acknowledge that when the viral load is undetectable = untransmittable
  • Health care professionals living with HIV whose confirmed viral load is below 200 copies/mL can perform exposure-prone procedures with some stipulations:
    • Has not been previously identified as having transmitted infection to patients while receiving appropriate suppressive therapy
    • Obtains advice from an oversight panel about recommended practices to minimize the risk of exposure events
    • Is followed by a physician who has expertise in the management of HIV infection and who is allowed by the individual to participate in or communicate with the oversight panel about the individual’s clinical status
    • Is monitored on a periodic basis (eg, every 6 months) to assure that the HIV RNA remains below the level of detection, with results provided to the oversight panel.
    • Is followed closely by their physician and the oversight panel instances in which fluctuations in HIV viremia occur, including appropriate retesting as discussed above to reevaluate the HCP’s viral load
    • Agrees, in writing, to follow the recommendations of the oversight panel

Read more about the guidance and information on how hospitals, professional schools, and institutions should proceed for healthcare workers living with HBV, HCV, and HIV. You can also read more about the rights and protections for health care students and professionals living with hepatitis B in the U.S.

 

Reference

Henderson, D., Dembry, L., Sifri, C., Palmore, T., Dellinger, E., Yokoe, D., . . . Babcock, H. (2020). Management of healthcare personnel living with hepatitis B, hepatitis C, or human immunodeficiency virus in US healthcare institutions. Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology, 1-9. doi:10.1017/ice.2020.458

Author: Evangeline Wang, Program Coordinator, Hepatitis B Foundation

Contact Information: info@hepb.org

Your Liver and Hepatitis B

 

Your Liver and Hepatitis B

 Happy Liver Cancer Awareness Month! Your liver is an important organ for digesting food and breaking down toxins. Its main functions include: filtering blood from the digestive tract and transporting it back to the rest of the body, removing toxins from the blood, and storing important nutrients that keep the body healthy.

Hepatitis B is a viral infection of your liver that can cause serious damage over time. Chronic infection with the hepatitis B virus (HBV) can ultimately lead to scarring, cirrhosis, liver cancer, and liver failure. Liver cancer is the 3rd deadliest cancer worldwide, with 5-year survival rates of only 19%. There are few effective treatments for liver cancer, and we, therefore, must rely on prevention and early detection in order to save lives. Chronic hepatitis B infection causes approximately 78% of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), or primary liver cancer. The key to saving lives is ensuring that individuals infected with HBV are diagnosed and linked with appropriate care, including regular screening for liver cancer.

In the U.S., liver cancer incidence and death rates are increasing at a faster rate than any other cancer and are projected to continue to rise through at least 2030. Up to 2.2 million people are chronically infected by HBV in the U.S. and the majority is unaware of their infection. Identifying, managing and treating those with HBV infection can help prevent liver cancer in many people. Additionally, regularly screening people with chronic hepatitis B  for liver cancer can aid with early detection and treatment of liver cancer. If diagnosed early, liver cancer can be treated and even cured.

Below are some practices you can easily incorporate into your daily life and routine to keep your liver healthy while living with hepatitis B.

Healthy Liver Tips

  1. Reduce alcohol intake: Alcoholic beverages can damage or destroy liver cells and create additional health problems.
  2. Eat a healthy diet: Increase the amount of whole foods in your diet like fruits and vegetables while decreasing the amount of refined carbohydrates (pastas, white rice, white bread), processed sugar, and saturated fats which can create a healthy environment for your liver.
  3. Daily exercise: It is recommended for adults to exercise at least 60 minutes per day. Not only does this have many other health benefits, but it can reduce the fat surrounding your liver which can decrease your risk of liver cancer.
  4. Avoid the use of illicit drugs: Drugs like marijuana, cocaine, heroin, inhalants, or hallucinogens put stress on your liver and reduce its functioning capability.
  5. Wash produce and read labels on household chemicals: Pesticides and other chemicals can contain toxins which are harmful to your liver.

Incorporating these healthy practices does not have to be difficult. Choose one of the five tips that is most convenient with your current lifestyle and use it as a starting point for a healthier routine. By gradually incorporating each healthy liver tip into your lifestyle, you can reduce your risk of a negative liver outcome creating a healthier you!

Resources for Liver Cancer and Hepatitis B

Please join Hepatitis B Foundation, Hep B United and Hep B United Philadelphia’s webinar on October 20th at 3PM ET to learn more about hepatitis B and liver cancer. Dr. Kenneth Rothestein, Director of Regional Outreach and Regional Hepatology from Penn Medicine will be highlighting the importance of liver cancer screening for prevention. Register here!

To promote and ultimately prevent liver cancer this October we are pleased to share the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Know Hepatitis B (KHB) Campaign Product of the Month – the Infographic: “Get Tested for Hepatitis B.”

The CDC’s Know Hepatitis B Campaign’s infographic, “Get Tested for Hepatitis B” encourages Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to get tested for hepatitis B. This 2-page downloadable document is available in English, Traditional Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean languages and answers commonly asked questions about hepatitis B.

For more information about the Know Hepatitis B Campaign, visit the campaign website.

 

Author: Evangeline Wang, Program Coordinator, Hepatitis B Foundation

Contact Information: info@hepb.org

Smoking and Hepatitis B

Smoking and Hepatitis B 

Hepatitis B and Your Liver

Hepatitis B is the most common serious liver infection in the world. Your liver is a vital organ which functions as your body’s engine. It processes toxins, stores vitamins, controls production and removal of cholesterol, produces immune factors, and releases bile to assist proper digestion. Hepatitis B may greatly inflame and damage the liver so it cannot perform these important processes efficiently. If left untreated, hepatitis B can cause severe damage such as fibrosis, cirrhosis, and liver cancer and lead to liver failure.

Smoking and Your Liver

Smoking itself may not directly cause liver cancer, though it can dramatically increase the risk for cancer in individuals who have other risk factors, such as a chronic hepatitis B infection (1). Carcinogenic chemicals in cigarettes can cause further damage to liver cells that are already at risk for cancer due to hepatitis infection. Research has found a strong association between chronic hepatitis B and C infections and smoking cigarettes as established risk factors for liver cancer (2). For example, research has found that smoking contains chemicals with cytotoxic potential which increases necroinflammation and fibrosis. Additionally, smoking increases the production of proinflammatory cytokines that are involved in liver cell injury (2). 

Smoking and Hepatitis B 

A 2010 study from the International Prevention Research Institute found an additive interaction between hepatitis B infections and cigarette smoking. Smoking seemed to interact with both hepatitis B and C infections, and the results of the study suggest a synergistic effect between smoking and hepatitis infections on the risk of liver cancer (1). For example, a study conducted in China found that individuals who smoke and live with hepatitis B have a higher risk for liver cancer because the liver’s processes are impaired from the toxic chemicals from long-term cigarette use (3). 

There is no “right” way to quit smoking; it can be cold turkey or gradual – it is your personal decision. If you are interested or considering quitting smoking or looking for alternatives to cigarettes, visit this website for some great tips and recommendations to help you quit.

 

References

  1.     Chuang, S. C., Lee, Y. C., Hashibe, M., Dai, M., Zheng, T., & Boffetta, P. (2010). Interaction between cigarette smoking and hepatitis B and C virus infection on the risk of liver cancer: a meta-analysis. Cancer epidemiology, biomarkers & prevention : a publication of the American Association for Cancer Research, cosponsored by the American Society of Preventive Oncology, 19(5), 1261–1268. https://doi.org/10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-09-1297
  2.     El-Zayadi A. R. (2006). Heavy smoking and liver. World journal of gastroenterology, 12(38), 6098–6101. https://doi.org/10.3748/wjg.v12.i38.6098
  3.     Liu, X., Baecker, A., Wu, M., Zhou, J. Y., Yang, J., Han, R. Q., Wang, P. H., Jin, Z. Y., Liu, A. M., Gu, X., Zhang, X. F., Wang, X. S., Su, M., Hu, X., Sun, Z., Li, G., Mu, L., He, N., Li, L., Zhao, J. K., … Zhang, Z. F. (2018). Interaction between tobacco smoking and hepatitis B virus infection on the risk of liver cancer in a Chinese population. International journal of cancer, 142(8), 1560–1567. https://doi.org/10.1002/ijc.31181

 

Authors:

Shrey Patel, University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine

Kelli Sloan, University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice

Evangeline Wang, Public Health Program and Outreach Coordinator, Hepatitis B Foundation

Contact Information:

info@hepb.org

Addressing Hepatitis B in Africa

Conference on Liver Disease in Africa

To discuss the latest advances in addressing viral hepatitis and other liver diseases in Africa,  there will be a virtual Conference on Liver Disease in Africa (COLDA) from September 10th to 12th, 2020. COLDA is organized by Virology Education on behalf of the organizing committee led by Drs. Manal Al-Sayed, Mark Nelson, and Papa Saliou Mbaye. This virtual conference will gather clinicians, patients, other healthcare professionals, and policymakers from African regions, with international experts to support and exchange innovative ideas and knowledge about liver disease. The conference will consist of lectures discussing viral hepatitis infections, hepatitis co-infections, non-viral hepatitis-related infections, non-infectious induced liver disease, hepatocellular carcinoma, and end-stage liver disease. This virtual conference is important for addressing viral hepatitis since fewer than 1 in 10 people in Africa has access to testing and treatment for viral hepatitis. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that viral hepatitis is a bigger threat to Africa than HIV/AIDS, malaria, or tuberculosis with over 1.34 million deaths a year attributed to it.1 Over 60 million people in Africa have hepatitis B which annually accounts for an estimated 68,870 deaths.1 These statistics demonstrate the need for conferences like COLDA to discuss best practices and reduce viral hepatitis in Africa.

Mother-to-Child and Early Childhood Transmission

Hepatitis B is commonly transmitted from mother-to-child and close contact with infected individuals during the first 5 years of life. These modes of infection transmission are preventable with proper birth prophylaxis. There are two types of mother-to-child and early childhood transmission of hepatitis B resulting in chronic infection: vertical and horizontal. Vertical transmission refers to the transmission of hepatitis B from an infected mother to her baby during delivery. Horizontal transmission refers to infection with hepatitis B from direct blood-to-blood contact with an infected individual. Most early childhood transmission cases in sub-Saharan Africa are from horizontal transmission especially during the first 5 years of life from contact with family members or close friends infected with hepatitis B2, though vertical transmission from a hepatitis B infected mother to her baby is also common and completely preventable with birth prophylaxis.

 The best way to prevent the transmission of hepatitis B (HBV) from mother to child is through a “birth-dose”, meaning infants are vaccinated against hepatitis B within 24 hours of birth. However, in the WHO Africa region, only 6% of infants are administered the birth-dose.1 Only three countries in Africa: Cameroon, Rwanda, and Mauritania, have national guidelines addressing mother-to-child transmission of hepatitis B.2 Additionally, healthcare providers do not routinely screen future mothers for hepatitis B which contributes to a higher burden.2 This lack of screening demonstrates the need for universal guidelines to provide information to future mothers about hepatitis B. The World Health Organization recently released updated guidelines for hepatitis B which recommends a universal birth dose for all infants, as soon as possible, preferably within 24 hours followed by an additional 2-3 doses (often fulfilled with the pentavalent vaccine). Additionally, the WHO newly recommends that pregnant women testing positive for a hepatitis B infection (HBsAg positive) with an HBV DNA ≥ 5.3 log10 IU/mL (≥ 200,000 IU/mL) receive tenofovir from the 28th week of pregnancy until at least birth, to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HBV.4 This is in addition to the three-dose hepatitis B vaccination in all infants, including the timely birth dose. The WHO also strongly recommends that in settings in which antenatal (pre-birth) HBV DNA testing is not available, HBeAg testing can be used as an alternative to HBV DNA testing to determine eligibility for tenofovir prophylaxis to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HBV.4 Testing for hepatitis B in early pregnancy, a timely birth-dose, pentavalent vaccination, and administration of antivirals in the last trimester if needed would prevent vertical transmission and in turn, prevent horizontal transmission.

HIV/HBV Co-infection

There is a high burden of HIV/HBV co-infection in African countries because both diseases share similar transmission routes such as mother-to-child, unsafe medical and injection practices, and unscreened blood transfusions.2 Chronic HIV/HBV infection is reported in up to 36% of people who are HIV positive, with the highest prevalence reported in west Africa and southern Africa. The co-infection of HIV and HBV is especially dangerous because it accelerates liver disease such as fibrosis and cirrhosis. In fact, liver-related mortality is twice as high among people with an HIV/ HBV co-infection.2

Nosocomial Transmission

Another common way hepatitis B is transmitted in Africa is through nosocomial transmission or transmission from a hospital setting.3 The World Health Organization estimates 24% of blood donations in lower-income countries are not systematically screened for hepatitis B or hepatitis C. Additionally, countries have inconsistent screening procedures and use non-WHO prequalified test kits. Implementation of screening guidelines would significantly assist in reducing the risk of transmitting hepatitis B.

Barriers

 There are numerous barriers to eliminating hepatitis B in African countries. Screening is costly and often inaccessible, especially in rural areas. Moreover, there is an irregular supply of test kits for screening for healthcare providers.2,3 Lack of public awareness and often provider knowledge also contributes to the higher hepatitis B burden. Research has found that less than 1% of Gambian adults previously knew their status when tested positive for HBsAg.3 Additionally, there are financial constraints when it comes to hepatitis B treatment and care. The World Hepatitis Alliance and the WHO found that 41% of the world’s population live in countries where there is no public funding for hepatitis B treatments.3 This financial barrier prevents people from accessing important screening and vaccination prevention services. A collaborative effort among governments, local health officials, and community members is needed to manage hepatitis B in African countries.

Importance of Conference

Hepatitis B disproportionately affects the WHO Africa Region where 6.1% of the adult population is infected.1 The Conference on Liver Disease in Africa will address problems and discuss potential solutions for this neglected preventable disease. COLDA will help to make eliminating hepatitis B in Africa a reality by engaging the global community to collaborate on public health efforts, develop innovative ideas, and discuss best practices to reduce barriers. We hope to see you there!

Learn more and register for the conference.

 

References:

  1. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/hepatitis-b
  2. Spearman, C. W., Afihene, M., Ally, R., Apica, B., Awuku, Y., Cunha, L., Dusheiko, G., Gogela, N., Kassianides, C., Kew, M., Lam, P., Lesi, O., Lohouès-Kouacou, M. J., Mbaye, P. S., Musabeyezu, E., Musau, B., Ojo, O., Rwegasha, J., Scholz, B., Shewaye, A. B., … Gastroenterology and Hepatology Association of sub-Saharan Africa (GHASSA) (2017). Hepatitis B in sub-Saharan Africa: strategies to achieve the 2030 elimination targets. The lancet. Gastroenterology & hepatology, 2(12), 900–909. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2468-1253(17)30295-9
  3. Maud Lemoine, Serge Eholié, Karine Lacombe, Reducing the neglected burden of viral hepatitis in Africa: Strategies for a global approach, Journal of Hepatology, Volume 62, Issue 2, 2015, Pages 469-476, ISSN 0168-8278, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhep.2014.10.008
  4. Prevention of mother-to-child transmission of hepatitis B virus: guidelines on antiviral prophylaxis in pregnancy. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2020. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.

I had a Liver Transplant Because of Hep B: Here’s What You Should Know

April is Donate Life Month in the United States. Donate Life Month is primarily known as a time to acknowledge those who have saved the lives of others by donating an organ, but it is also a chance to highlight the incredible journeys of those who have required organ transplants. 

Two years ago, Peter V. had a seven-hour emergency liver transplant after a chronic hepatitis B infection led to rapid liver failure. Peter sat down with us and shared an in-depth look into why he needed a liver transplant and how it changed his life. 

  1. Why did you need a liver transplant? 

I had acute liver failure.  About 1 and ½ years before my liver failure, I was taken off the hepatitis B medication (Viread) by my gastroenterologist and to maintain blood work monitoring about every 6 months.  From the span of June of 2017 to January of 2018 immediately before my liver failed, my hepatitis B DNA went from 1,000 IU/L to 169 million IU/L and my ALT went from 24 IU/L to 4,419 IU/L.  By this time, my liver had completely been destroyed through cirrhosis. Without the hepatitis B medication, the virus can flare up at any time and reaction to it once this happens could be too late as in my case.

2. What did a liver transplant mean to you previously? Did you realize how serious the procedure was? 

I never thought about a liver transplant, or any transplant for that matter. I never thought I would need one. Before, life with hepatitis B was normal and routine. Hepatitis B was simply part of my life; I took my medications and had no side effects from them, so the liver transplant was a surprise to me. 

I didn’t understand how serious a transplant was. My condition deteriorated rapidly when my liver began to fail. I couldn’t even do basic functions like unlocking my phone. It got to the point where my situation was so severe that I was in and out of consciousness; I didn’t even know that they were taking me into surgery. Upon recovery, when my cognitive function came back, my wife informed me that my situation had been extremely critical. 

3. What kind of treatment and follow-up did the transplant involve? 

I was bed-ridden and unconscious for over two weeks after the transplant. I needed physical therapy to regain my strength –  to sit up or to get out of bed. For two weeks, I had therapy three or four times a day to regain my ability to speak and cognitive thinking. 

Blood work is also a big part of follow-up. In the beginning, I had to have my blood taken daily before it lessened to once a week, then once every two weeks, and eventually to once a month. All of the blood tests are to make sure that your body does not reject the new organ. I’m on anti-rejection medications, but there is always the risk that your body can reject it. About a year ago, my ALT number rose to high levels, which raised immediate concern. My post-transplant team took a sample of my liver and found that my body was rejecting the new liver. They increased my anti-rejection medications and my body was able to adapt. 

I also developed diabetes after my transplant and had to be placed on insulin, however, I was able to stop taking it by changing my diet and monitoring my blood sugar through my eating habits. 

4. How has the liver transplant changed your life? Are you still able to carry out daily activities the same way you did previously?

I don’t drink alcohol at all anymore and I take much better care of my body. Before my transplant, I didn’t take hepatitis B seriously. I was still drinking alcohol and wasn’t eating a healthy diet. The transplant made me realize how serious hepatitis B could be if you don’t take care of your liver. 

The anti-rejection pills suppress my immune system, which means I have to be very careful about what I eat and how it is prepared. Eating out at restaurants is a risk because you have to trust that the restaurants are properly cleaning their food and that it is cooked properly.  Because of the immunosuppressants, improperly cleaned food can be dangerous. One time I developed a fever and had to be hospitalized because of cross-contamination between foods at a restaurant. You really have to be aware of what you are eating. 

The reminders for COVID-19 to wash your hands thoroughly and not touch your face have been my life since the transplant. Eventually, these actions become a habit. I am still able to work and do physical activities like yard work and exercise, but it is not as vigorous as before. I still get fatigued throughout the day, but it doesn’t stop me from living my day-to-day life. 

I don’t know how I would do this without support. I don’t know how I would do this by myself. I still do physical therapy to regain my strength and my family helps while I go through this journey. Family support is key. I also have a post-transplant team that will help monitor my health for at least 3 years after my transplant.

Most importantly, my family support has been abundant and going through an experience like this makes me much more appreciative of the love and care from having family support that should not be taken for granted. Now, the time spent together regardless of the activities are much more precious.

5. Is there anything that you wish you could have changed about your experience? 

I wish I didn’t have to go through the transplant. I wish I knew more about how serious hepatitis B was. I still drank alcohol and ate the same foods that I ate before my diagnosis. I neglected my liver health. I wasn’t serious about it before the transplant; hepatitis B was invisible to me. It shouldn’t have taken a liver transplant for me to become aware of it. 

6. What have you learned since your journey? Do you have any advice for those living with hepatitis B who think that a liver transplant is the best, or only, option for them?

I don’t think that a liver transplant is an “option”. For me, it was life-or-death. Because I was in critical condition, I was able to get it immediately. For others, getting a transplant is a long and difficult journey. 

A liver transplant is not going to get rid of chronic hepatitis B. You will still live with it. Hepatitis B is still a part of my life every day. The difference is that I now have an understanding of what it can do to my liver. 

Having chronic hepatitis B is not life-ending. It’s not even life-changing as long as you take your medication and take care of your liver. I put my friends and family through a scary experience. If you have chronic hepatitis B, take your medications and keep your liver healthy. Take your diagnosis seriously. 

About Liver Transplants for Those Living with Hepatitis B:

A liver transplant is a very serious surgery that removes a diseased or injured liver and replaces it with a healthy one. People living with hepatitis B can need a liver transplant if their liver begins to fail. This typically occurs if the infection is not being monitored properly, or if significant liver damage has been occurring. Regular monitoring by a knowledgeable provider, a healthy lifestyle, and taking medications, if needed, as prescribed, can help prevent the need for a liver transplant.

 Thank you, Peter, for providing a look into your experience! 

Love Your Liver This Valentine’s Day

For most people, Valentine’s Day is a day full of love, but for those living with hepatitis B, it can be filled with dread and anticipation. Perhaps you haven’t told your significant other that you have been diagnosed with hepatitis B, or maybe you are spending this year alone because you are scared to begin a relationship. This year, instead of focusing on others, take Valentine’s Day to love yourself – and your liver! 

Taking Care of Your Liver 

Find a Knowledgeable Provider (and be sure to see them regularly!): 

Most people who are diagnosed with hepatitis B lead long, healthy lives. The key is proper care and monitoring by a trained healthcare provider. If you do not yet have a healthcare provider who is regularly monitoring your diagnosis, you can search our physician directory to find one near you. You can also search the World Hepatitis Alliance’s member list to find local resources and organizations who can help you identify a provider in your area.  

It is always a good idea to conduct your own research as well! Look into what your provider specializes in, as some may be more knowledgeable about the infection than others. Ideally, it would be best to regularly see a hepatologist – someone who specializes directly in diseases of the liver. However, due to finances and other constraints, this may not be an option for everyone. Seeing any doctor is extremely important, but if you only have access to a provider who is not as experienced in hepatitis B, make sure that they are performing the correct tests to monitor the health of your liver. At each follow-up appointment, your doctor should: check your liver enzymes (ALT, AST), perform a physical exam of the liver, and any other blood tests they might feel is needed to determine the stage of the infection and the health of the liver. Sometimes, the doctor will also perform an ultrasound of the liver to get a better picture of what is going on. You can find some questions that are important to ask your doctor here. 

Watch What You Consume: 

When people are first diagnosed with hepatitis B, they may feel fine and may not consider making small changes in their daily lives. The truth is that your diet plays a large role in the health of your liver! Everything that enters your body is filtered through your liver. This makes adopting healthy habits essential to keeping the liver in good shape. A standard rule of liver disease is to avoid alcohol – even small amounts – and maintain a steady diet of fruits and vegetables. Foods that are high in fat, salt, and sugar content can lead to weight gain, which puts a strain on your liver. Beware of what you are drinking as well! Drinks like juices and sodas might seem like healthier options, but often contain high amounts of sugar. Diet sodas may lack sugar but have other additives which may have other health implications. Opt for flavored water or seltzer to satisfy a sweet craving instead! If healthier beverage options are not readily available, see if any coffee is available. Studies have shown that drinking coffee can lower one’s risk of developing liver damage and liver cancer – just be sure to watch how much sugar and creamer you put in it! Other diseases of the liver, such as fatty liver, can also increase your risk of liver damage and liver cancer, so it is extremely important to be aware of the risks and what you are consuming. 

Those living with hepatitis B should also be aware of aflatoxins. Aflatoxins – which can cause liver cancer – are natural toxins that are produced by a mold that grows on crops like corn, peanuts, and tree nuts. Aflatoxins are more common in warm, humid parts of the world, such as African countries and areas with tropical climates. Before eating any grains and nuts, check for any signs of mold. If the food appears to be moldy, do not consume it. The World Health Organization also recommends buying grains and nuts as fresh as possible to minimize the risk of aflatoxin exposure. The fresher the food is, the less time it has been in storage, which is where aflatoxins commonly grow. 

Be Mindful of Your Stress Levels: 

Living with hepatitis B can be a big stressor, especially for those who may face stigma and discrimination. Research shows that stress can negatively impact liver health. Take some time to find ways that might relieve your stress, such as meditation, listening to music. Being social can also be a stress reliever for some, so try spending more time with your trusted friends and family members. Exercise is also a great stress reliever and it has the benefit of helping you maintain a healthy weight! 

If you are celebrating Valentine’s Day with your partner or if you are in a new relationship, remember that hepatitis B is preventable and cannot be transmitted casually! Holding hands, kissing, or sharing utensils or food made by someone who is living with hepatitis B will not spread the infection. Hepatitis B is a vaccine-preventable disease so make sure that they have completed their hep B vaccine series. If they are not protected from hepatitis B, be sure to practice safe sex (use a condom) to prevent transmission.

Liver Health & The Holidays: How to Stay Healthy with Hep B

The holiday season is here once again! It’s often a time filled with love and happiness, but for those living with chronic illnesses like hepatitis B, this time of year can be uncomfortable and stressful. The most important thing to remember is that your health – physical and mental – should come first. 

Alcohol is usually present at holiday gatherings and can be difficult to avoid. However, it is also extremely damaging to the liver – especially if you are living with a liver disease like hepatitis B. It may be tempting, but avoiding all alcohol, including small amounts, is best for the health of your liver. Focus on the conversation and catching up with your coworkers or friends instead of the drinks!  If you feel pressured, you can carry around a cup of another beverage, such as sparkling water or juice, to bypass any questions about why you are choosing not to drink. 

The holidays are also filled with sugary treats and foods that are high in unhealthy fats. Too many sugary, processed, and fatty foods (and drinks) are harmful and can contribute to liver diseases such as Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver. When combined with hepatitis B, liver diseases can make your risk of liver damage and liver cancer even greater, so it is extremely important to maintain a balance of healthy foods and exercise. A few treats here and there will not harm you, but moderation is key! Try eating smaller portions of dessert and keep holiday sweets out of your house to avoid temptation. If you were gifted a delicious, but unhealthy snack, share it with friends and family!  

If you are preparing a meal or a dish for your celebrations, make it a healthy one! The American Liver Foundation has a great fact sheet on how to read the nutrition label on food packing. This will help you make better choices while you are food shopping. Try using healthier alternatives to ingredients, such as butter, that may be high in cholesterol or fats, and experiment with using more spices instead of salt to add flavor to the meal. 

Be sure to stay active during the holidays! Exercise is one of the best ways to maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of liver cancer. Grab a friend and take a walk or head to the gym. This is a great way to keep your fitness routine, encourage your friends to stay healthy, and catch up with those you haven’t seen in a while! If you don’t want to leave the comfort of your home or if you prefer to work out alone, you can also stay active by following along to exercise videos on Youtube. 

Remember that everything that you consume is filtered through your liver; your liver never gets a break! The lifestyle tips listed above may seem simple, but they have a large, positive impact on your health. Sticking to a regular healthy routine even during the holiday season will make it easier to continue those habits all year long! You can also check out our healthy liver tips to see what other actions can be taken to protect your liver.

The Alarming Link Between Hep B and the Opioid Epidemic

This post was written by guest blogger Dr. Ahmed Howeedy.

Rates of hepatitis B transmission are on the rise in the United States. The little-known truth is why— and it has everything to do with the raging opioid epidemic that every day claims 130 lives to overdose.

How Opioid Epidemic Is Fueling Intravenous Drug Use

Heroin and prescription painkillers like oxycodone, hydrocodone and morphine have increasingly served as intravenous drugs of abuse for a growing number of Americans who suffer from untreated addiction to these drugs. That increase in intravenous drug use—and with it, higher rates of exposure to unclean needles and IV drug paraphernalia, coupled with low rates of hepatitis B vaccination—has fed a nationwide outbreak of hepatitis B. New cases of the liver disease are reportedly up by an average of 20 percent across the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

How Hep B and the Opioid Epidemic Are Related

It’s therefore no coincidence that areas where the opioid epidemic has hit hardest have seen especially dramatic increases in hepatitis B transmission. Consider the following data collected by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

  •  In opioid hot spots such as Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia, the incidence of acute hepatitis B infection rose by 114 percent between the years 2009 and 2013, CDC reported.
  • North Carolina reportedly saw a 56 percent jump in new Hep B cases in 2014-2016.
  • And, in Massachusetts, where the government declared in 2015 that there was an opioid crisis, cases of Hep B linked to intravenous drug use increased by 78 percent more than the national average in 2017, according to a Department of Public Health advisory.

How to Intervene When You Suspect Intravenous Drug Use

What is perhaps most tragic about the link between hepatitis B and intravenous drug use is that it is preventable, thanks to public health education and the hepatitis B vaccine. Today most reputable opioid treatment programs will educate incoming patients about the risks of hepatitis B, by testing for the disease and administering the vaccine. And, because quality opioid treatment addresses the roots of addiction that led someone down the path of intravenous drug use, a good rehab program is also the best way to help an intravenous drug user quit their risky behaviors and reduce their risks of overdose.

For family members who suspect their loved one is an intravenous drug user or in imminent danger of intravenous drug use, then, consider having an open, honest and non-judgmental conversation about your concerns. This is not the time to excoriate your loved one for engaging in risky behaviors. The most important, immediate concern should be one of preventing further harm in the form of an overdose, hepatitis B and other dangers like HIV. Here are some things you can do to intervene quickly and effectively when you suspect intravenous drug use:

  •  Encourage your loved one to get treatment for their addiction. Sometimes an intervention will be the most persuasive approach. Equally critical is finding quality integrated care that will treat the medical, neurological, psychological, and behavioral dimensions of an opioid addiction. A trusted treatment provider will offer the hepatitis B vaccine, yes. They will also offer medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for relieving the opioid cravings that so often can trigger a relapse—naltrexone has helped many of my patients with opioid addiction—but a good provider will also take an integrated, wraparound approach that treats the whole person and not just the physical aspects of their addiction.
  • Take your loved one to their primary care doctor for a checkup. Sometimes progress has to come in smaller steps. If you can’t persuade your loved one to enter a rehab program, insist on an annual check-up with their primary care doctor— and if possible, go with them. In these contexts, it’s routine for doctors to ask about lifestyle choices such as drinking, smoking and illicit drug use; and, as a doctor, I’ve found that patients answer these questions honestly most of the time. (For that matter, even if a patient lies about their intravenous drug use, the signs are hard to hide in a medical exam.) In this context, your loved one will be strongly encouraged to get the hepatitis B vaccine series and counseling for other blood-borne infectious diseases which they are at risk for.
  • If your loved one has given up on treatment or refuses to consider it, invite them to consider local harm reduction options. These options and their availability can depend on where you live. Many states now have needle exchange programs. There are approximately 185 such programs operating nationwide, according to a fact sheet from the ACLU. Other harm reduction initiatives include safe injection education and greater public access to the overdose prevention drug naloxone.

Hepatitis B may be the slower, more insidious killer in an opioid epidemic that’s better known by the overdose figures— but it’s a dangerous killer nonetheless. The good news is that with greater public awareness about the problem of prescription painkillers, intravenous drug use and their link to Hep B, we can put an end to that killing spree. Make sure that yourself and your loved ones are protected from hepatitis B by speaking with them or a doctor about the 2-3 doses vaccine!

Dr. Ahmed Howeedy is Chief Medical Officer at FHE Health, a nationally recognized behavioral health provider. Learn more about FHE Health’s addiction treatment programs.