Saturday, May 19th is the first National Hepatitis Testing Day. Viral hepatitis partners will be working together with local health departments and other community partners in to bring viral hepatitis testing events to a neighborhood near you. Hep B United Philadelphia and the Hepatitis B Foundation and other partners will be holding screening events in downtown Philly.
Why is hepatitis testing necessary? Hepatitis B is largely asymptomatic – until it is too late, or caught with blood donation screening, or lab work. There are clearly defined risk factors for hepatitis B, or groups that are at greater risk, but there are also less clearly defined risks, or just bad luck. Think about this list and ask yourself if you might want to think about getting tested. If you are young, or when you were younger, was your behavior ever wild or impulsive? Are you a little older and you’re still a little impulsive, or occasionally wild? Did you ever get drunk, or do drugs – even once, or perhaps “lose a night”? Did you have unprotected sex, or do you have multiple partners? If you are monogamous, are you sure your SO is equally monogamous? Does a friend or family member possibly have a known or even an unknown infection? Maybe they know, but they aren’t telling you. Do you like traveling the world? Outside of the U.S. there are some really wonderful places that have an extremely high HBV prevalence. Roughly 40% of Americans have tattoos, or various piercings. Did you check out the shop- not for the artistry, but for infection control practices before you got your tatt? Ever borrowed a razor or nail clippers or other personal hygiene tools from someone else? How about the nail salon? Do enjoy a good pedicure? Things happen. People are different, they have different lifestyle choices. People make mistakes. They change. Things happen.
Sometimes I take calls from people that call HBF’s consult line. In the last couple of weeks I have spoken to a few consults that do not necessarily fit the standard at-risk profile for hepatitis B. One was an older, senior citizen, who is a regular blood donor, but just recently tested positive for hepatitis B during her most recent donation. Because her blood was being regularly screened, it appears clear that she has an acute case of hepatitis B. She can’t figure out how in the world it happened. She is not having sex, nor is she an injecting drug user. She lives in a small town, and does not have any family from other parts of the world where there is a high prevalence of HBV such as Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, parts of Central America. She is dumbfounded by this diagnosis.
Another consult was concerned about his wife who had also contracted an acute case of hepatitis B. They’re also a little older and in a monogamous, married relationship. After speaking with him, we determined she likely contracted her infection through her job. She works as a cleaning woman. Although most people are not symptomatic, this woman was quite symptomatic for HBV and required close monitoring. After discussing her case with her husband, I recommended that he also be tested, though he was sure he could not be infected since he had no symptoms. He called me last week to tell that he was in fact, acutely infected. He is stunned.
I am not here to judge anyone’s apparent risks or lack of risks. I am only here to answer questions about their hepatitis B infection. Hepatitis B is not casually transmitted, but it is one-tenacious virus that can effectively be transmitted through infected blood and body fluids.
Fortunately, there is a safe and effective 3-shot vaccine series to protect us against hepatitis B. However, the vaccine doesn’t work if you are already infected. Remember, HBV does not discriminate. B sure. B tested. If you are do not have HBV, then give yourself lifelong protection with the hepatitis B vaccine. If you find you do have hepatitis B, talk to your doctor about further testing. Don’t forget to check out those free, confidential hepatitis screenings this weekend!