Hep B Blog

Category Archives: Relationships

If I Have Hepatitis B, Why Doesn’t My Partner?

Why do some people — who were not vaccinated — never get hepatitis B from their sexual partners? The question is a common one.  As a sexually transmitted disease, it may seem obvious that your partner may contract hepatitis B from their partner, especially if you have been together for some time.

It comes down to factors, such as the type of sexual activity you engage in, the viral load (HBV DNA) of the infected partner, and who

is on the receiving end of infectious body fluids, especially blood that contains the most virus, and semen.

Having one partner infected, while the other is not, can add more

stress to an already traumatic hepatitis B diagnosis. “It was very confusing and made me question how was it possible I was the only one infected,” said a woman who tested positive while her husband tested negative.  “I thought it was possibly a mistake, maybe I was a biological anomaly, which of course I was not.”

Let’s look at the factors that affect who gets infected and who doesn’t when two people have sex.

Viral load: Semen, vaginal fluids and blood all contain the hepatitis B virus (HBV), and the higher the viral load, the more infectious a person is considered to be. However, having an undetectable viral load doesn’t mean you won’t infect someone during unsafe sex. Even if a man has an undetectable viral load, studies show his semen still contains some of the virus and can spread infection, though the risk is lower.

Essentially, if a man tests positive for the hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg), he must consider himself infectious.

The role of gender: In heterosexual relationships, uninfected women are at higher risk of getting infected by a male partner infected with hepatitis B, rather than the reverse. Women are on the receiving end of semen, which greatly increases their risk of becoming infected unless a condom is used.

When a woman is infected with hepatitis B, an uninfected man is at risk through direct contact with her vaginal secretions, but that contact is lower-risk than a woman’s direct exposure to infectious semen during intercourse.

However, an infected woman who is menstruating is more likely to spread hepatitis B because blood can contain higher levels of HBV than vaginal secretions. That is why gloves and dental dams are recommended to provide a barrier against exposure.

The type of sexual activity: Certain sexual activities are far more efficient at spreading hepatitis B than others. Oral sex appears to have a lower rate of hepatitis B transmission than vaginal sex. Anal sex carries a very high risk of transmission because of tears in the skin that can occur during penetration, which improves transmission of HBV.

Fingering carries a lesser risk, unless the infected woman is menstruating or a person has bruises or cuts on their hands that allow entry of hepatitis B virus from the body fluid into the bloodstream.  In such cases, gloves are recommended.

The “uninfected” partner could already have been infected and cleared hepatitis B: When a person is first diagnosed with hepatitis B, doctors often test his or her partner for only the hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg), which indicates a current hepatitis B infection. If they are negative for HBsAg, they are immediately vaccinated. However, this does not mean that they were never infected.

If the partner isn’t also tested for the hepatitis B surface antibody (anti-HBs or HBsAb), then no one knows if the individual was already protected, either due to recovery from a past hepatitis B infection or because they had already been vaccinated.

Hepatitis B is not called the “silent” infection for nothing — many people who get hepatitis B never have any symptoms and never realize they were infected. As a result, a wife, husband, partner or lover who tested negative for HBsAg, may actually have been

infected in the past and cleared the infection and now has protective hepatitis B surface antibodies to forever safeguard them from infection. If they’re immediately vaccinated and retested after the three-dose vaccination, they will test positive for surface antibodies, without ever knowing that their antibodies resulted from a past infection, not immunization.

Bottom line, if one of you have been diagnosed and the other is not infected, it is unusual but not uncommon. Get tested using the 3-panel blood test (HBsAg, HBsAb, and HBcAb) and immediately vaccinated if the uninfected partner tests negative for the hepatitis B surface antibody (HBsAb).

Take a quiz to find out how much you know about hepatitis B transmission: click here.

Patient Perspective: Living with Chronic Hepatitis B & Fighting it On All Fronts

 

This post is by guest blogger Mariam. Mariam works at a charity cancer hospital and is interested in philosophy. She is currently learning french and enjoys spending time by herself and the mountains. 

When you are first told that you have a chronic disease that is treatable but has no cure, you are suddenly confronted with an enemy on multiple fronts—you have to fight it within your body, inside your mind, your heart and in the outside world. Chronic hepatitis B: nearly 15 million people are living with it in Pakistan. In the world, 292 million people are silently suffering from this , and most are unaware (which is 9 out of 10 people globally). It is a tragedy that 2 out of 3 liver-related deaths are caused by this infection which is preventable and treatable. There are many reasons why this disease is prevalent in a developing country like Pakistan that lacks a proper healthcare system; where there are no pregnancy screenings or an effective mechanism to ensure babies are vaccinated against this. It’s an infection that can be transferred through blood (most commonly from an infected mother to her baby during delivery)  and sexual intercourse and  so it is not difficult to understand how this disease travels from one generation to another, silently. Elimination of viral hepatitis by 2030 is one of the millennium goals of the World Health Organization, but we cannot achieve this without dedicated efforts by all the stakeholders that include health-care professionals, patients, media, and policy-makers. I am primarily interested in sharing the patient’s perspective, in hopes that it will encourage others to fight this epidemic.

A Patient’s Point of View

The fact it’s a chronic illness means you are in for the long haul and you have to be prepared to take care of yourself by regular monitoring/medications (depending on what stage you are at) for the rest of your life. One can argue that’s bad but it’s not a big deal as we have people who suffer from high blood pressure, bad eyesight, or diabetes and they also have to regularly take care of themselves. The problem is that hepatitis B is an infectious disease, a fact that contributes towards stigma surrounding its diagnosis. Suffering from flu makes me feel like a hazard to others. Having an infection that I cannot get rid-off certainly makes me feel bad and, in a way, dirty. I have to be cautious and aware that my blood is hazardous for others and I have to be constantly aware of all the possibilities I can be harmful and ways to prevent it. It’s a progressive disease which can be treated at a certain point, so when you go to follow-up appointments, you feel like a ticking bomb is inside you and you need to be able to identify the period when the bomb goes off so you can treat the damage. Because current hepatitis B medications are most effective when there are signs of liver damage, the treatment is often only given during this phase. The inherent uncertainty makes you hate hepatitis B.

Fighting Discrimination and Stigma

Living in a conservative society, if you are one of the few fortunate ones aware of your diagnosis, how do you deal with it? I kept it to myself because I did not want people to define me through my illness. I did not tell my parents or friends because I did not want them to see me as ill or worse, to pity me. I needed time to process it without having to deal with other’s opinions and judgments. Three years ago, I was diagnosed with hepatitis B during regular pre-employment screening. I did not even know anything about this disease. I had a biopsy to determine the stage of the disease. Then I went to a few follow-ups. Unfortunately, after a while, I stopped because I did not want to think about this illness. I wanted to forget about it so I tucked it away, in the farthest corner of my mind. I did not know many people with whom I felt safe talking about this. Until one day, I was at a fundraising event for a charity cancer hospital where I got the chance to sit with a doctor. He was a stranger and a doctor, so in a way I felt safe telling him why I’m so interested in trying to understand where my country stands in the fight against hepatitis B—I told him I was diagnosed with it. At one point he asked me if I’m on treatment,  and I honestly told him I am supposed to be on follow-up. He said, “What do you mean, supposed to be?” That slight hint of disappointment made me feel I failed in taking care of myself. It’s easier to sound irrational inside your head but when you share it out loud, it does not feel nice. He told me that first, I need to sort out myself before trying to make a difference in the world of hepatitis B. I am grateful for the brief discussion with him which gave me the courage to think about re-scheduling my long overdue follow-up appointment. It gave me the clarity that I wanted to share my story with others in hopes that those who are fighting hepatitis know they are not alone. Sharing my story also helps me feel that I am not alone either.

I feel it is very important to fight the stigma surrounding hepatitis. Only then we will be able to talk about it and bust the myths. Only then we will be able to discuss ways to fight it on the ground. It is common in a conservative society to put a label on you as defective and exclude you from everything. For instance, marriage is still, by large, the union in this culture after which people have sexual intercourse and have kids; both occasions that can be possible causes of transmission of this virus. If, before marriage, a person is aware of their diagnosis, they can ensure that their partner is vaccinated and safe. However, in this society, there is also a prevalent culture of arranged marriage which makes this whole discussion almost impossible because so-called “perfection” is demanded. I wonder if submitting your hepatitis status with a marriage certificate was compulsory, would it help in data collection and early detection of this disease or would it encourage stereotyping. What if it was possible to vaccinate every child who starts school to be vaccinated against hepatitis B? After all, mandatory vaccinations are common in other countries. But what about children who can’t afford to go to a school? Can we link hepatitis B vaccination confirmation mandatory with every birth certification? This works in many other countries that vaccinate every baby born – we need to able to fight hepatitis B with a strong response such as this.

I also have an obsession with trying to understand this virus that is sharing my body. So my brain imagined a story to help understand how the chronic hepatitis B works. There are the good guys (liver cells) and bad guys (virus) who grew up together quite happily. Until one day, the good guys realized that these other guys are not from amongst us, let’s kill them. There is a battle and then there is collateral damage. What I want to understand is, if the bad guys aren’t harming the good guys, then why does the body start fighting them? And what is the purpose of their existence if they are not bad guys by default? Perhaps one day someone will help answer my questions. Until then, I’ll try to focus on the inevitable fight.

 

Valentine’s Day: Dating, Love, and Hepatitis B

Valentine’s Day is a day of celebration, but it can also bring about worries and stress. Some might feel pressure about buying the right gifts for their loved ones. Maybe you’re wondering if it’s too soon in your relationship to celebrate the holiday. We may not be able to help you figure out what type of candy your partner likes the most, but we can help you navigate the holiday if you or a loved one is living with hepatitis B!

Can my partner and I have sex if one of us is infected and the other is not?

One way that hepatitis B is spread is through unprotected sex. This means that certain precautions need to be taken if your partner is uninfected, has not been vaccinated, or has not completed their vaccine series yet. Precautions include using a condom correctly. Using condoms can also prevent other sexually transmitted infections, like hepatitis C and HIV, that can be harmful to everyone, but especially to those who have chronic hepatitis B. Please keep in mind that certain sexual activities carry higher risks of transmission because of tiny, often microscopic tears in the membrane that may occur and increase the chances of direct blood contact! If you believe your partner has been accidentally exposed, they should contact their doctor or a local physician to begin post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) as soon as possible. PEP can prevent chronic hepatitis B if caught early enough, so it is very important to inform the doctor of a possible exposure soon after it occurs.

If your partner has already completed the 2 dose (where available) or 3 dose vaccine series, there is nothing to worry about! They are not at risk for transmission! The recommended schedule for the three-dose vaccine consists of a dose at 0, 1 and 6 months, and the two-dose adult vaccine is at 0 and 1 month.  Some individuals may be interested in an accelerated vaccine schedule. Please understand that an accelerated schedule entails four shots, not three. The fourth shot would be administered at one year and would provide long term protection. Those that choose a shortened schedule will not have long term protection from hepatitis B if they do not complete the fourth dose. And your partner should have their blood tested 4 weeks after their last vaccine dose to confirm that they are protected.

I’m scared to tell my partner that I have hepatitis B.

It can be intimidating to tell a person something so personal, especially if you are uncertain about how they will react. However, it is extremely important! Even if you are using condoms, it is necessary to let your partner know your status before becoming intimate. Once you tell them, it will be a huge relief!

So, how can you prepare for the conversation?

  1. Research: hepatitis B can be confusing, so it is important that you both are familiar with the infection, including how it is transmitted! Apart from HBF’s website, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has great information and handouts (in multiple languages!) on the infection. Consider printing one or two fact sheets out for your partner to look over.
  2. Take a deep breath: Don’t rush into the conversation. Take a moment to think about what you want to say. This will help you to stay calm and allow the conversation to progress. Remember to let your partner talk as well!
  3. Speak confidently: Don’t let hepatitis B speak for you! Let your partner know what you’ve learned about your infection and inform them that you are regularly visiting the doctor to monitor the infection. Speaking confidently can help keep them calm as well, and assure them that there is nothing to worry about!

If they react badly to the news at first, don’t worry! Everybody processes things at different rates and many people fear what they don’t understand. Try giving them some space and let them think about the information they’ve been given. You can also show them Heng’s #justB video; it tells the story of a man who fell in love and married a woman who is living with chronic hepatitis B and how he still supports her today! Also, remind your partner that hepatitis B is vaccine preventable! Three simple shots can protect them for life and they will never have to worry about the risk of transmission again!

Some people will never react kindly to the news, and that’s okay too! It may be disappointing, but don’t let it keep you down! You deserve someone who will accept and love you for who you are! Your chronic hepatitis B infection does not define you; it is just a small part of who you are.

For Partners of Chronic Hepatitis B Patients:

Valentine’s Day is a  time of love, and what better way is there to show love than by being supportive? If your partner is living with hepatitis B, you can show them you care in small ways! Perhaps it’s skipping the alcohol once in a while when you two go out with friends so they don’t feel alone. You can also try cooking healthy meals with them or exercising together a few times a week. Small gestures can say big things!

My partner has been diagnosed with hepatitis B. Can transmission be prevented by vaccination?

Courtesy of Google Images

A hepatitis B diagnosis can be scary and confusing for both you and your loved ones, especially if you are unfamiliar with the virus. Hepatitis B is known to be sexually transmitted, and you may wonder how you can continue your relationship with someone who has been infected. The good news is that hepatitis B is vaccine preventable.This means that after you complete the vaccine series, you cannot contract hepatitis B through any modes of transmission; you are protected for life!

However, it is important to remember that the vaccine will only work if a person has not been previously infected. Therefore, it is necessary to take certain steps after your partner’s diagnosis to protect yourself from becoming infected.

The first step is to visit the doctor and get tested, even if you think that you do not have it. Since hepatitis B often has no symptoms for decades, testing is the only way to know your status. The doctor should perform the Hepatitis B Panel test – a simple blood draw that shows hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg), hepatitis B surface antibody (HBsAb or anti-HBs), and hepatitis B core antibody total (HBcAb or anti-HBc). Looking at these three blood test results together will show if you have a current infection, have recovered from a past infection, or if you need to be protected through vaccination. Once you receive your results, this chart can help you understand what they mean.

Preventing Transmission through Vaccines:

If you test negative for HBsAg, HBsAb, and HBcAb, you are not protected from hepatitis B and are considered to have a high risk of contracting the virus from your partner or other means. To prevent transmission, you will need to begin your vaccination series as soon as possible.

The hepatitis B vaccine is a 3-shot series taken over the span of 6 months. The first shot can be given at any time. The second dose should be given at least one month after the first shot, and the third and final dose should be separated from dose 2 by at least two months and dose 1 by at least 4 months.  While there is a minimum amount of time required between doses, there is no maximum amount of time. If you miss your second or third shot, you do not have to start the series over again; you can pick up where you left off! If your partner is pregnant and was diagnosed with hepatitis B, extra precautions need to be taken to prevent transmission to the child. Two shots will need to be given to the child in the delivery room: the first dose of the hepatitis B vaccine and Hepatitis B Immune Globulin (HBIG), if recommended and available in your country.  You can learn more about pregnancy and hepatitis B here.

After completing the series, a quick blood test called the “antibody titer” (anti-HBs titer) test can confirm that you have responded to the vaccine. This test, which should be given at least one month after you receive the third dose, will be greater than 10 mIU/mL if you are protected from hepatitis B. Like the vaccine, your doctor can administer the titer test.

Hepatitis B is spread through direct contact with blood. HBV  is also a sexually transmitted disease, so it is important to practice safe sex by using condoms throughout the duration of the vaccine series until the antibody titer test confirms that you are protected. While you wait for your body to create its defense, there are other steps that you can take to avoid transmission such as not sharing toothbrushes or sharp objects like razors.

The hepatitis B vaccine is the only way to fully protect yourself from the virus. Preventive measures such as using condoms can help prevent hepatitis B transmission, but without vaccination, there can still be some risk.

If you do not have a doctor or are worried about the cost of testing or vaccination, you can still get tested and vaccinated! In the United States, Federally Qualified Health Centers provide the hepatitis B vaccine at low- or no cost to individuals without insurance or with limited plans. You can search for a health center near you here. Internationally, you can search our Physicians Directory and the World Hepatitis Alliance member map to identify member organizations in your country that may have advice on doctors in your area. In addition, keep a lookout out for local health fairs and screenings; they may provide free vaccinations or testing for hepatitis B!