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Does Hepatitis Delta Increase My Risk for Liver Cancer?

 

 

 

 

 

The short answer is, possibly.  Although there is extensive research to support the role of hepatitis delta in accelerating the risk for progression to cirrhosis (liver scarring) compared to hepatitis B infection (1,2) only, strong data directly linking an increase in risk for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is lacking. It is known that coinfection promotes continually progressing inflammation within the liver by inducing a strong immune response within the body; where it essentially attacks itself (3), but the specific role of hepatitis delta in HCC isn’t fully understood. It gets complicated because although cirrhosis is usually present in hepatitis B patients who also have HCC, but scientists have not pinpointed a specific way that the virus may impact cancer development (4). There have been some small studies that have documented a correlation between hepatitis delta and an increase in HCC, but some analysis’s have even called the extent of its involvement in HCC as ‘controversial’ (5). However, other scientific studies may suggest the contrary.

Because hepatitis delta cannot survive without hepatitis B, and doesn’t integrate into the body the same way, it may not be directly responsible for cancer development, but it has been suggested that the interactions between the two viruses may play a role (6). It has also been suggested that hepatitis delta may play a role in genetic changes, DNA damage, immune response and the activation of certain proteins within the body – similarly to hepatitis B and may amplify the overall cancer risk (7,8). One of these theories even suggests that hepatitis delta inactivates a gene responsible for tumor suppression, meaning it may actually promotes tumor development, a process that has been well-documented in HCC cases (9,10).

Regardless of the specific impact or increase in risk for HCC due to the hepatitis delta virus, hepatitis B is known to increase someone’s risk, with 50-60% of all HCC globally attributable to hepatitis B (11). People with hepatitis delta coinfection still need to be closely monitored by a liver specialist, as 70% of people with both viruses will develop cirrhosis within 5-10 years (12). Monitoring may be blood testing and a liver ultrasound to screen for HCC every 6 months. Closer monitoring may be required if cirrhosis is already present, or to monitor response to treatment (interferon).

For more information about hepatitis delta, visit www.hepdconnect.org.

References:

  1. Manesis EK, Vourli G, Dalekos G. Prevalence and clinical course of hepatitis delta infection in Greece: A 13-year prospective study. J Hepatol. 2013;59:949–956.
  2. Coghill S, McNamara J, Woods M, Hajkowicz K. Epidemiology and clinical outcomes of hepatitis delta (D) virus infection in Queensland, Australia. Int J Infect Dis. 2018;74:123–127.
  3. Zhang Z, Filzmayer C, Ni Y. Hepatitis D virus replication is sensed by MDA5 and induces IFN-β/λ responses in hepatocytes. J Hepatol. 2018;69:25–35.
  4. Nault JC. Pathogenesis of hepatocellular carcinoma according to aetiology. Best Pract Res Clin Gastroenterol. 2014;28:937–947.
  5. Puigvehí, M., Moctezuma-Velázquez, C., Villanueva, A., & Llovet, J. M. (2019). The oncogenic role of hepatitis delta virus in hepatocellular carcinoma. JHEP reports: innovation in hepatology, 1(2), 120–130.
  6. Romeo R, Petruzziello A, Pecheur EI, et al. Hepatitis delta virus and hepatocellular carcinoma: an update. Epidemiol Infect. 2018;146(13):1612‐1618.
  7. Majumdar A, Curley SA, Wu X. Hepatic stem cells and transforming growth factor β in hepatocellular carcinoma. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2012;9:530–538.
  8. Mendes M, Pérez-Hernandez D, Vázquez J, Coelho AV, Cunha C. Proteomic changes in HEK-293 cells induced by hepatitis delta virus replication. J Proteomics. 2013;89:24–38.
  9. Chen M, Du D, Zheng W. Small Hepatitis Delta Antigen Selectively Binds to Target mRNA in Hepatic Cells: A Potential Mechanism by Which Hepatitis D Virus Down-Regulates Glutathione S-Transferase P1 and Induces Liver Injury and Hepatocarcinogenesis. Biochem Cell Biol. August 2018.
  10. Villanueva A, Portela A, Sayols S. DNA methylation-based prognosis and epidrivers in hepatocellular carcinoma. 2015;61:1945–1956.
  11. Hayashi PH, Di Bisceglie AM. The progression of hepatitis B- and C-infections to chronic liver disease and hepatocellular carcinoma: epidemiology and pathogenesis. Med Clin North Am. 2005;89(2):371‐389.
  12. Abbas, Z., Abbas, M., Abbas, S., & Shazi, L. (2015). Hepatitis D and hepatocellular carcinoma. World journal of hepatology, 7(5), 777–786.

 

Join Hepatitis Partners for a Twitter Chat on May 19th, #HepTestingDay!

Join HepBUnited, NASTAD, National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable (NVHR) and CDC’s Division of Viral Hepatitis for a Twitter Chat on Hepatitis Testing Day, May 19th at 2 P.M. EDT.  The chat will highlight hepatitis events and allow partner organizations to share their successes, challenges and lessons learned from their efforts, particularly during this unique time. Partners will also highlight innovative strategies for outreach during COVID-19. This twitter chat serves to keep us all informed, raise awareness and share messaging. All are encouraged to join the twitter chat conversation with the hashtag #HepChat20, and to keep partners posted throughout the month about events and messaging with the hashtag #HepAware2020.

Continue reading "Join Hepatitis Partners for a Twitter Chat on May 19th, #HepTestingDay!"

Hep B and COVID-19: Resources for Individuals and Healthcare Workers

Amidst the global challenges we are facing, the Hepatitis B Foundation remains a resource for our community and our partners. COVID-19 is a rapidly developing situation, and information about it’s impact on those living with liver diseases such as hepatitis B is still emerging. During this time, it is important to be prepared for all situations, including limited access to necessities. Below, we have provided several tips and tools to help you protect yourself and stay healthy. 

Preparing for Quarantine or Self-Isolation

To prevent transmission of the virus, countries around the world are instating protocols requiring individuals to stay home and to practice social distancing as much as possible. If you are currently on hepatitis B medication, it is important to make sure that you have enough medication for an extended period of time. Call your doctor and ask them to write a 90-day prescription for your treatment if they have not done so. The American Association on the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD) reports that many insurance companies are waiving refill limits on prescriptions, so you can request additional medication at any time. As skipping a day of treatment may cause the virus to flare and increase the risk of liver damage, it is essential to speak with your healthcare provider about long-term medication access.

If you had a doctor’s appointment scheduled during this time period, see if your doctor’s office is scheduling telehealth appointments or holding virtual meetings with their clients instead. Some services for those living with hepatitis B, such as ultrasounds or even blood work, may be delayed until further notice unless there is a cause for concern. You may want to consider scheduling a virtual meeting to discuss your situation and address any questions you may have about recent test results or concerning symptoms. Most telehealth services should be accessible directly from your phone if you do not have access to a computer. 

It is also important to continue protecting the health of your liver.  Consider stocking up on canned vegetables and fruits instead of items that may be unhealthy.  Be sure to read the nutrition labels, as some canned goods can have high sodium and sugar contents. If you have the means, you can also purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, and freeze them to use over the upcoming weeks. Physical activity – both indoor and outdoor – is encouraged during this time as well! Practice social distancing for outdoor activities, and get creative for indoor workouts. 

Protecting Yourself During the Pandemic:

Many individuals are wondering how those living with hepatitis B can protect themselves from COVID-19. Current recommendations are to practice social distancing and to wash your hands frequently with soap and water. Be sure to scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds! If soap and water are not available, a hand sanitizer that contains 60% or more alcohol will also kill the virus. 

Dr. Robert Gish, Medical Director for the Hepatitis B Foundation, says, “If you’re living with chronic hepatitis B or C without cirrhosis, you should be following the standard precautions for the coronavirus infection. The coronavirus does affect liver inflammation and liver enzymes and can also cause liver dysfunction, so individuals living with cirrhosis will be at higher risk for liver disease progression and decompensation.” Dr. Gish also recommends that individuals living with cirrhosis take special precautions, such as increased monitoring of liver enzymes. If you develop COVID-19, Dr. Gish recommends close monitoring of both liver enzymes and liver function. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends that those with serious chronic conditions self-isolate with or without an official stay-at-home order. 

Resources for Providers and Healthcare Workers:

Resources for Those Living with Hepatitis B

About COVID-19: 

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by a new coronavirus that was discovered in 2019. While most people who become infected experience a mild reaction, COVID-19 can develop into a serious illness in individuals with underlying illnesses and chronic conditions. Precautions should be taken to prevent transmission and keep you, your family, and your community safe.

 

Stay up-to-date with the most recent information. 

Hepatitis B Research Review

 

 

 

 

Welcome to the Hepatitis B Research Review! This monthly blog shares recent scientific findings with members of Baruch S. Blumberg Institute (BSBI) labs and the hepatitis B (HBV) community. Technical articles concerning HBV, Hepatocellular Carcinoma, and STING protein will be highlighted as well as scientific breakthroughs in cancer, immunology, and virology. For each article, a brief synopsis reporting key points is provided as the BSBI does not enjoy the luxury of a library subscription. The hope is to disseminate relevant articles across our labs and the hep B community. 

Interferon-inducible MX2 is a host restriction factor of hepatitis B virus replication Journal of Hepatology

  • This paper from Fudan University in Shanghai, China reports the interferon-induced GTPase MX2 as a host protein which inhibits HBV replication. Interferon alpha (IFN-α) is a type 1 interferon used in a subset of HBV-infected patients to help eradicate the virus. IFN-α treatment results in the activation of hundreds of genes known as interferon-stimulated genes (ISGs). Which ISGs are most important in eliminating HBV infection remain largely unknown. GTPases are a large family of hydrolase enzymes which convert guanosine triphosphate (GTP) to guanosine diphosphate (GDP). GTPases act as molecular switches in an array of cellular process including signal transduction, cell division and differentiation, and protein translocation. The myxovirus resistance (Mx) proteins are highly conserved, dynamin-like, large GTPases. Humans have two MX proteins: MX1 and MX2, both of which are known ISGs. While MX1 is known to have broad-spectrum antiviral activity against RNA viruses, MX2 has only recently been shown to inhibit human immunodeficiency virus 1 (HIV-1), hepatitis C virus (HCV), and hepesviruses. MX2 antiviral activity against HIV-1 and herpesviruses is mediated through MX2 binding to the capsid of invading viruses whereby it likely inhibits the uncoating of viral DNA. In HCV, MX2 was found to interact with non-structural protein 5A (NS5A) thereby inhibiting its localization to the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). MX1 has been reported to inhibit HBV replication by inhibiting nuclear export of viral RNas and/or trapping the HBV core protein indirectly. This study investigates the anti-HBV activity of MX2. First, the group compared the anti-HBV activity of MX2 to four other innate immune restriction factors: HNRNPU, SAMHD1, MOV10 and A3G. They co-transfected these genes along with the HBV genome into HUH-7 cells and then assessed HBV replication via Southern blot. MX2 was found to inhibit HBV replication the most, with 44% of viral DNA compared to the empty vector control. The group then used siRNA, Southern blot, Western blot, fractionation, and mutagenesis studies to elucidate the anti-HBV role of MX2. Overall, they found that MX2 significantly reduces HBV RNA levels and indirectly impairs cccDNA formation. MX2 was found to contribute substantially to the anti-HBV affect of  IFN-α. Both the GTPase activity and oligomerization status of MX2 were found to be important in conferring its anti-HBV affect. In the future, MX2 and its related pathways may be exploited to help prevent the formation of and even eliminate cccDNA in those infected with HBV.

An HBV-encoded miRNA activates innate immunity to restrict HBV replication – Journal of Molecular Cell Biology

    • This paper from the Tianjin Medical University in China explains how an HBV-encoded microRNA (miRNA) activates the innate immune system in humans infected with the virus. miRNAs are short (21-25 nucleotides) sequences of mRNA which are mainly involved in post-transcriptional silencing of genes. miRNAs are produced in plants, animals, bacteria, and viruses. Typically, miRNA acts to silence protein translation from a messenger RNA (mRNA) by binding to the 3′ untranslated region (UTR) of the mRNA. This binding may result in the destabilization or cleavage of the mRNA or inhibit the function of the ribosome during translation. This group has identified an miRNA from the HBV genome called HBV-miR-3 which they have previously reported inhibits HBV replication by targeting the HBV mRNA transcript. In this paper, the group first shows that HBV-miR-3 is produced in an amount proportional to virus infection in vitro. They also show that HBV-miR-3 is secreted from cells in exosomes. Next, using both patient serum samples and in vitro assays, the group found a positive correlation between HBV-miR-3 production and IFN-α signaling pathways. In patient serum, levels of HBV-miR-3 positively correlated with levels of the hepatitis-related parameters alanine aminotransferase (ALT), aspartate transaminase (AST) and type I IFNs (IFN-α and IFN-β). In cell culture, they observed an increased expression of  the IFN-α-induced antiviral effectors OAS-1, MX1, IFIT2 and IFIT3 in the context of HBV-miR-3 production. Further experiments indicated that HBV-miR-3 promotes IFN-α production by suppressing the expression of suppressor of cytokine signaling 5 (SOCS5), allowing for signal transducer and activator of transcription 1 (STAT1) to be activated by phosphorylation. Finally, the group shows that HBV-miR-3 released from infected cells in exosomes  promotes polarization of the M1 macrophage phenotype. M1 or “classically activated” macrophages secrete high levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines and thereby fight pathogenic infections. Taken together, these results show that aside from directly limiting HBV replication, HBV-miR-3 also indirectly limits HBV infection by activating the host innate immune system. The virus may do this in order to adopt host miRNA-mediated antiviral machinery and thereby alleviate pathogenesis so that persistent and latent infection can continue. In the future, levels of HBV-miR-3 may be used as a diagnostic marker for HBV infection and may shed light on novel antiviral approaches.

Innate and adaptive immunity associated with resolution of acute woodchuck hepatitis virus infection in adult woodchucks – PLOS Pathogens

    • This paper from Georgetown University in Washington, DC is a “woodchuck paper”. That is, it is an in vivo study of woodchucks infected with Woodchuck Hepatitis Virus (WHV). WHV infection is used as a model system for HBV infection in humans because WHV is similar to HBV. This type of study is beneficial, especially when studying the immune response to hepadnaviruses, because humans infected with HBV are typically asymptomatic in the early stage of infection and because it is not advisable to obtain liver biopsies from these patients. The woodchuck infection model offers a controlled infection with WHV at a known time-point, which can be monitored by regular blood tests and liver biopsies. When studying the immune response to hepadnaviruses, liver biopsies are necessary because the liver is the site of the infection. About 95% of adults infected with HBV “clear” the virus; that is, their immune system is able to fight off the virus completely, giving them life-long immunity. The other 5% become chronic carriers of HBV and are at a high risk for liver cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). However, 95% of infants infected with HBV become chronic carriers. Differences in the immune systems of adults vs infants have been attributed to this drastic difference in chronicity, but what specific components of the immune system are important in staving off chronic infection remain unknown. Overall, the data presented here indicate that there is an early, non-cytolytic control of WHV replication mediated by interferon gamma (IFN-γ) produced mainly by natural killer (NK) cells. This was followed by an adaptive immune response characterized by antibody production, a T-cell response, and cytolytic action of cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs). This adaptive immune response led to both the decline of WHV as well as symptoms of acute hepatitis B (AHB) including sinusoidal and portal inflammation in the liver.

Differential alternative splicing regulation among hepatocellular carcinoma with different risk factors BMC Medical Genomics

    • This paper from the University of Utah School of Medicine in Salt Lake City, Utah uses bioinformatics to examine how different risk factors for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) correlate with differential alternative splicing (AS) of tumor mRNAs. After a primary (precursor) mRNA transcript is produced in the nucleus by RNA polymerase, the transcript must “mature” by having regions called “exons” removed in a process called splicing. Splicing results in an mRNA transcript consisting entirely of “introns”. The mRNA is then capped at its 5′ end with a 7-methylguanosine residue and polyadenylated at its 3′ end with about 200 adenylate residues (poly-A tail). This mature mRNA is able to exit the nucleus and be translated into protein by a ribosome. Alternative splicing (AS) describes how one genomic region may code for many different protein variants (isoforms) by differential spicing of the primary mRNA transcript. A common mechanism of AS is “exon skipping”, where exons are included in some mature transcripts but not others. HCC has various risk factors including alchohol consumption and infection with hepatitis B or C viruses (HBV and HCV). This study used data from The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) and  the Genomic Data Commons (GDC) Data portal to analyze 218 patients with primary HCC associated with HBV (n = 95), HCV (n =47), or alcohol (n = 76). They used RNA sequencing (RNA-Seq) data to examine differences in AS between three groups: HBV vs. HCV, HBV vs. alcohol, and HCV vs. alcohol. 143 genes were identified with differential AS across these groups and these genes were found to be mainly involved in immune system, mRNA splicing-major pathway, and nonsense-mediated decay pathways.Of the 143 AS genes identified, eight and one gene were alternatively spliced specific to HBV and HCV respectively. The human leukocyte antigen genes HLA-A and HLA-C had differential AS in HBV-related HCC compared to both HCV- and alchohol-related HCC. HLA ptoteins are part of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class 1 surface proteins which present foreign antigens to the immune system. Also, exon 3 of  the gene encoding inositol hexakisphosphate kinase 2 (IP6K2) was skipped more often in HBV-related HCC than in other groups. IP6K2 is known to be involved in cancer metastasis. This study represents the first investigation into how different risk factors of HCC may affect the AS status of specific genes.

The Cytosolic DNA-Sensing cGAS–STING Pathway in Cancer (Review) Cancer Discovery

    • This review from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City covers current understanding of the cGAS-STING pathway in the context of cancer. While it is well known that the cGAS-STING pathway is an evolutionarily-conserved  antiviral signaling platform, how this pathway is involved in tumorigenesis remains unclear. In preneoplastic (early tumor) cells, cGAMP produced in response to DNA damage is exported out of the cell to activate STING in neighboring antigen-presenting cells (APC). This activation results in the release of type 1 interferon (IFN) from the APC, which cross-primes natural-killer and CD8 T-cells to kill the preneoplastic cells. In this context, the cGAS-STING pathway plays a role in tumor surveillance by activating innate immunity to create “hot spots” of inflammation. However, there is also evidence that activation of the cGAS-STING pathway can contribute to tumorigenesis.  In advanced, metastatic tumor cells, chronic activation of STING by chromosomal abnormalities leads to suppressed production of IFN and the upregulation of Nf-kB-driven pro-survival genes. This can drive chronic inflammation of the tumor as well as its metastasis to other locations in the body. Activation of the STING pathway in tumor cells may also allow for their immune evasion by inducing autophagy and upregulating expression of programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1). Another interesting finding mentioned in this review is a STING-independent form of cGAS activation which may drive tumorigenesis during cell division. During mitosis, cytoplasmic cGAS may bind to repeat sequences in the centromere regions of chromosomal DNA. Once bound, cGAS may interrupt the repair of sister chromatids by homologous recombination, causing aneuploidy in daughter cells, a hallmark of tumor cells. Of additional interest, mentioned in this review are several recent findings regarding the cGAS-STING pathway, including: cGAS can be activated by extracellular DNA entering the cell in exosomes; cGAS can be activated by “micronuclei” which are small nuclear compartments in the cytoplasm formed by chromosomal instability; cGAS-DNA complexes turn into a liquid phase to produce cGAMP; STING dimers oligomerize to form tetramers when activated; palmitoylation of STING has been proposed to recruit TANK binding kinase 1 (TBK1) and interferon regulatory factor 3 (IRF3).

Lay Summary: 
This month, the innate immune system was the focus of HBV research. Scientists hope to find how the innate immune system interacts with HBV during viral infection and proliferation. Doing so will shed light on host factors which lead to chronic infection and inform antiviral strategies. Notably, this month a human protein, MX2 was found to have potent anti-HBV activity by preventing cccDNA formation. Also, a microRNA encoded by HBV called HBV-miR-3 was found to activate the human innate immune system to limit HBV replication. This month, a paper studying woodchuck hepatitis virus (WHV) traked activation of the innate immune system as well as he adaptive immune system in an acute infection model. Also this month, concerning hepatocellular carcenoma (HCC), the alternative splicing of mRNA in tumors was found to vary in HCC patients based upon their risk factor (HBV, HCV, or alcohol). Finally, a review was published this month concerning STING, an innate immune protein which is not activated by HBV infection but which may prove a valuable tool for cancer treatment.  

Meet our guest blogger, David Schad, B.Sc., Junior Research Fellow at the Baruch S. Blumberg Institute studying programmed cell death such as apoptosis and necroptosis in the context of hepatitis B infection under the direction of PI Dr. Roshan Thapa. David also mentors high school students from local area schools as part of an after-school program in the new teaching lab at the PA Biotech Center. His passion is learning, teaching and collaborating with others to conduct research to better understand nature.

Exposed to Hep B? What Steps You Should Take To Prevent Infection

As a blood-borne virus, it is extremely difficult to track exposure to hepatitis B unless you are aware of somebody’s hepatitis B status. Exposure to the virus can occur at work, through sexual intercourse, unsterile tattoo or drug equipment, or even medical procedures with equipment that was not properly sterilized. Precautions – such as vaccination –  should always be taken to avoid a possible infection, but timely actions can also be taken to prevent an infection if an exposure does occur. 

Post- Exposure Treatment  

If you believe you were exposed to hepatitis B, Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) is the key to preventing the development of a hepatitis B infection. The first step is to seek medical care as soon as possible and let a healthcare professional know that you may have been exposed to hepatitis B. If you do not have a regular doctor or they cannot fit you in for an appointment, you can also visit a hospital’s emergency department or health care center. 

Be sure to be honest with the healthcare professional about how you may have been  exposed to hepatitis B, as this will help them to determine your exposure risk and the correct actions to take.  PEP is typically given in the form of one dose of the hepatitis B vaccine, but in certain circumstances, the healthcare provider will give one dose of the vaccine in addition to a shot of hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG) to provide additional protection. Even if HBIG is unavailable, you should still receive the a dose of the hepatitis B vaccine

Both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals can receive PEP.  However, recommendations for PEP can differ based upon the exposure and whether or not a person has been fully vaccinated. If the source of exposure is known to be hepatitis B surface antigen-positive (HBsAg), the healthcare provider will take the following steps based upon your vaccination status: 

  • Source of exposure is known to be HBsAg positive and individual is unvaccinated – HBIG and hepatitis B vaccine are given as soon as possible within a 24 hour window. Complete full vaccine series as recommended after PEP. 
  • Source of exposure is HBsAg positive and individual is partially vaccinated (less than 3 doses or less than 2 doses of Heplisav-B) – receive HBIG. Complete vaccine series as recommended. 
  • Source of exposure is HBsAg positive and individual has proof of a completed vaccinate series – one dose of hepatitis B vaccine booster is given.

If the source has an unknown hepatitis B status, the recommendations are as follows:

  • Source has unknown HBsAg and individual is unvaccinated – receive first dose of the hepatitis B vaccine as soon as possible within a 24 hour window.
  • Source has unknown HBsAg and individual is not fully vaccinated – complete vaccine series.
  • Source has unknown HBsAg and individual has proof of completed vaccination – no treatment is needed.

The most important part of PEP is the time between the exposure and treatment. PEP is most effective at preventing hepatitis B if it is given as soon as possible after the exposure. This means that the treatment should be given within 24 hours of exposure. 

Pregnancy and PEP

PEP is safe and recommended for both pregnant and breastfeeding mothers who have been exposed to hepatitis B; the vaccine will not harm the baby. For pregnant women who are HBsAg positive, PEP must be administered to the newborn to prevent the baby from developing chronic hepatitis B! In this case, the doctor delivering the newborn should be aware of the mother’s hepatitis B infection so that they can have HBIG and the vaccine on hand during the birth. After the baby is born, one dose of HBIG and the first dose of the hepatitis B vaccine should be given to the newborn within 12 hours of delivery. It’s important to note that HBIG may not be available in all countries. In this case, it is even more important to make sure that babies receive the first dose of the hepatitis B vaccine within 24 hours of birth. The newborn should receive the remainder of the vaccine according to the vaccine schedule.  

PEP for Healthcare Workers

It’s important to note that occupational procedures have a different set of guidelines, although the timeline and standard PEP treatment recommendations remain the same. Healthcare institutions should always have infection control guidelines and precautions in place to prevent an exposure, but accidents can still occur. All healthcare workers who are exposed to hepatitis B at work should follow the standard protocol for the post exposure process, as explained by the CDC guidelines. The workplace is also responsible for making sure that all employees have access to PEP and all other post-exposure procedure materials as soon as possible after the exposure. 

After the 24 Hour Window and No Access to PEP 

If you are unable to receive PEP within the recommended time frame, you should still visit a healthcare provider to receive treatment as soon as possible. The CDC estimates that treatment may be effective at preventing infection if given up to 7 days after the initial exposure, but not enough research has been done to confirm how effective PEP is if given after that timeline. The earlier PEP is received, the more likely it is to be effective. 

The World Health Organization also recommends that standard first-aid be applied immediately to all cuts and wounds that may have been exposed to infected blood. The standard first aid includes 1) letting the wound bleed freely and; 2) washing the wound immediately with soap, gel, or hand-cleaning solution. Be sure to treat the wound gently, and to not use harsh solutions or soaps when cleaning the area. WHO also provides instructions on how properly cleanse eyes, the mouth, and unbroken skin after a potential exposure. 

If you believe that you were exposed to hepatitis B and never received PEP, you should be tested to know your hepatitis B status. It takes up to 9 weeks for the hepatitis B virus to show in the bloodstream. Therefore, it is important to get tested for the hepatitis B 3 panel blood test (HBsAg, HBcAb, HBsAb) at least 9  weeks after the exposure to determine if you have been infected. If you remain uninfected after that time period and are HBsAb negative, the completion of the hepatitis B vaccine series is strongly recommended. 

 

Hemochromatosis: Treatment, the Liver, and Hepatitis B

Genetic conditions can be an unfortunate part of life, but with information and support, some can be managed. By sharing your family health history and learning about genetic disorders that run in the family, measures can be taken to prevent damage and help your loved ones stay healthy!

Hereditary hemochromatosis is one of the most common genetic disorders. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that approximately 80-90% of hemochromatosis cases are from the hereditary form of the condition1. Due to a mutation in the HFE gene, the body begins to produce too much iron – a process

Northern European Countries

called iron overload. Iron overload can cause complications in the liver, heart, and pancreas2. According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD), hereditary hemochromatosis has several names that all refer to the same disorder: bronze diabetes, classic hemochromatosis, hemochromatosis type I, hemosiderosis, HFE-related hemochromatosis, HH, and primary hemochromatosis. The two non-hereditary forms of hemochromatosis are secondary hemochromatosis and neonatal hemochromatosis. Both are considered to be rare. Although the hereditary form is common, the exact number of patients worldwide is unknown. Globally, it is estimated that 1 in 227 individuals of Northern European descent is living with hemochromatosis. In the U.S, an estimated 1 million individuals are impacted as well 2

Not everyone who has the mutant gene develops hemochromatosis. These individuals are known as “carriers”; they can pass the gene on without suffering from the symptoms. Symptoms include joint pain, fatigue, abdominal pain, unexplained weight loss, and a bronze or grey skin color. For most patients, symptoms do not appear until middle age (40-60) because it takes time for the iron to build up in the body. Males tend to be affected more often than women and experience symptoms at a younger age as well 3,2. Some carriers for the mutant gene may develop a more severe version of the disorder called juvenile hemochromatosis. With juvenile hemochromatosis, patients experience an excessive amount of iron overload that can lead to liver and heart damage between the ages of 15 and 30.

Hemochromatosis, the Liver, and Hepatitis B

While the body needs a certain amount of iron to function, iron overload can be dangerous.  Hemochromatosis can lead to two major liver issues: hepatomegaly and cirrhosis. Hepatomegaly is the enlargement of the liver and cirrhosis is the scarring of the liver. Both issues can impair the liver’s ability to function and filter out toxins that enter the body. They can also increase a person’s risk of developing liver cancer. Recently, two major studies by the University of Exeter and the U.K. University of Connecticut, and the U.S. National Institute on Aging have found that a person living with hemochromatosis has four times the risk of developing a liver disease than a person who is living with the disorder.

For individuals living with hepatitis B, it is extremely important to understand any behaviors or conditions that may have a negative impact on your liver. Since one liver disease can increase your risk of another liver disease, it is important to identify the disorder as early as possible, especially if you have any of the following risk factors:

Risk Factors for Hereditary Hemochromatosis:

  • Men or postmenopausal women
  • Of Northern European descent
  • Having a relative with hemochromatosis

Risk Factors for Secondary Hemochromatosis:

  • Alcoholism
  • Family history of diabetes, heart disease, or liver disease
  • Taking iron or vitamin C supplements

Hepatitis B patients do not have an increased risk of developing hemochromatosis4. However, if you have any of the above risk factors, it is important to get tested. Hemochromatosis can easily be identified by a comprehensive look at a person’s family health history, a physical exam, and a simple blood sample. Your doctor will then use the blood sample to run a series of tests that may include transferrin saturation (TS), serum ferritin, or liver function tests. In certain cases, the doctor may also perform genetic testing to see if the mutant HFE gene is present.

Treatment

Treatment for hemochromatosis is available! Based up tests results, family history, medical history, and the appearance of symptoms, the doctor may suggest a few different treatment methods. In therapeutic phlebotomy – the most common treatment method – a patient undergoes regular blood draw to lower the amount of iron in the body. This method is effective, affordable, and typically lasts for an extended period of time. Through iron chelation therapy, patients can either receive an injection or orally consume a medication that will lower the amount of iron in your blood. Finally, some doctors may suggest changes to your diet, such as eating less vitamin C, avoiding alcohol and shellfish, and not taking iron supplements. Dietary changes are mainly used to prevent liver damage.

For more information on HH, you can visit the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

References:

  1. Grosse, S. (2017). A New Public Health Assessment of the Disease Burden of Hereditary Hemochromatosis: How Clinically Actionable is C282Y Homozygosity? [Blog]. Retrieved from https://blogs-origin.cdc.gov/genomics/2017/08/16/a-new-public-health-assessment/
  2. National Organization for Rare Disorders. (2019). Classic Hereditary Hemochromatosis. Retrieved from https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/classic-hereditary-hemochromatosis/#general-discussion
  3. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2019). Hemochromatosis. Retrieved from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/liver-disease/hemochromatosis
  4. Beaton, M., & Adams, P. (2007). The Myths and Realities of Hemochromatosis. Canadian Journal Of Gastroenterology, 21(2), 101-104. doi: 10.1155/2007/619401

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hepatitis Victoria’s “Little Hep B” Hero Book

Hepatitis Victoria in Melbourne, Australia recently released their “bright, colorful, positive and silly” children’s book, Little Hep B Hero! In addition to creating a book, Hepatitis Victoria also created an animation.

Little Hep B Hero, which is available in English, Simplified Chinese and Vietnamese, gives children and their families a delightful glimpse into a young girl’s visit to her neighbor and friend, Rosa. As Rosa and the young girl prepare food and lemonade together, Rosa tells her about living with chronic hepatitis B. Rosa explains what the liver does, what hepatitis B is, how the virus is transmitted, how she maintains a healthy lifestyle with chronic hepatitis B, and shares tips on preventing hepatitis B transmission. Little Hep B Hero also provides cute and easy to understand visuals of the little girl as a superhero while Rosa explains this information.

The book does an excellent job of explaining liver functions and what the hepatitis B virus does to the liver! The analogy of using a sieve to demonstrate how the liver filters toxins in the body was creative. The book also does a great job of indirectly tackling some myths associated with hepatitis B. For example, people are often hesitant to share meals with those living with chronic hepatitis B. Little Hep B Hero lets its audience know that you cannot get hepatitis B through food preparation or sharing a meal, so Rosa cooks a meal for her neighbors.

Little Hep B Hero is an important read for future generations and their families! Getting the conversation started early about hepatitis B will address the stigma and discrimination associated with it. When children are talking about hepatitis B and are knowledgeable about it, hepatitis B isn’t a scary topic anymore. The message of hepatitis B as a family matter highlights the importance of educating and testing family members.

For more information, check out their press release, and to purchase Little Hep B Hero, visit Hepatitis Victoria’s website here.