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Get Vaccinated for Hepatitis B!

 

August marks the start of National Immunization Awareness Month! This month highlights the importance of vaccines for people of all ages. Let’s talk about why you should get vaccinated for hepatitis B.

Understanding Your Status

Before becoming vaccinated for hepatitis B, it is important to understand your status. You can test through a simple triple panel blood test for HBsAg, HBcAb total and HBsAb. This will tell you if you have a current infection, have recovered from a past infection and if you need to be vaccinated. More details about the blood tests can be found here. Many people with hepatitis B do not look or feel sick so it is important to get tested. Learning your status early can help manage your hepatitis B and identify at-risk close contacts (household/family members or sexual partners) who can then be vaccinated and protected against hepatitis B.

 Why You Should Be Vaccinated

The hepatitis B vaccine is the first anti-cancer vaccine because it successfully prevents a hepatitis B infection which is the leading cause of liver cancer worldwide. It’s important for people to receive the vaccine since most people with hepatitis B are not aware they are infected. Hepatitis B is known as a silent infection as many people can live with hepatitis B for years without knowing they are infected. With chronic hepatitis B, when symptoms do finally present, often the infection may have already caused severe liver damage. The hepatitis B vaccine can prevent hepatitis B and also the health consequences that can come from hepatitis B, including the increased risk for cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer

It is especially important for future mothers to be tested for hepatitis B and vaccinated if needed. Mothers can easily pass hepatitis B to their infant during childbirth through either vaginal delivery or c-section. The most common mode of transmission of hepatitis B is from mother to child, so administering the vaccine to infants at birth is one of the most effective ways to reduce the number of hepatitis B cases worldwide. Read more about preventing perinatal transmission both in the U.S. and internationally.

In fact, it is very important to vaccinate children, starting with a birth dose, because greater than 90% of acute (short-term infection lasting less than 6 months) cases in infants and up to 50% of infected young children of hepatitis B will progress to chronic (lasting a lifetime) infections while only 5%-10% of adult cases will become chronic. That said, vaccination rates in adults are low and due to the nature of hep B, even those who recover from infection are at risk of reactivation. Left untreated, chronic infections can harm your liver and cause poor health outcomes. That is why the Hepatitis B Foundation calls for universal testing for hepatitis B. Luckily, you can expect to live a long and healthy life when you manage chronic infections of hepatitis B. Learn more about hepatitis B management here.

In the United States, you can get the vaccine through your healthcare provider or health clinics. Ask your doctor if you can get vaccinated today!

Hepatitis B is a preventable virus so why not take steps to become a healthier you!

About the Hepatitis B Vaccine

Hepatitis B can cause long-term serious damage to the liver like cirrhosis, fibrosis, and liver cancer. Fortunately, a safe and effective vaccine exists which can prevent a hepatitis B infection in all persons.

The World Health Organization recommends the vaccine for infants at birth and children up to age 18. Additionally, the WHO recommends high-risk groups become vaccinated for hepatitis B such as:

  • Pregnant women
  • People who frequently require blood to blood products
  • People who inject drugs
  • People in prison
  • Household and sexual contact of people with chronic HBV
  • Healthcare workers with blood to blood contact
  • People with multiple sexual partners
  • Travellers without completion of their vaccine series to endemic areas.

The WHO recommends that infants receive the vaccine within 24 hours of birth followed up with two additional doses. Children up to the age of 18 can also receive this series if they either were not vaccinated for hepatitis B at birth or did not complete the series. The series should be as followed:

  • 1st Dose: Anytime, but for infants, it should be administered at birth
  • 2nd Dose: One month (28 days) after the first dose
  • 3rd Dose: 4 months (16 weeks) after the 1st shot (and at least 2 months after the 2nd shot). Infants should be a minimum of 24 weeks old at the time of the 3rd shot.

Find out more about the vaccine schedule here!

You do not need to restart the hepatitis B vaccine series if you miss any of the shots.

In November 2017, a vaccine was approved by the FDA for use in the U.S. Heplisav-B (Dynavax) is a two-dose vaccine approved for use in adults aged 18 and older. The vaccine is administered as two doses given one month apart.

Ask your doctor about the 2-dose vaccine. You can now find Heplisav-B at more than 1,700 Albertsons Companies’ store pharmacies across the US. For assistance accessing this vaccine, you can contact Heplisav-B’s Access Navigator at 1-844-375-4728. 

For more information on the hepatitis B vaccine, read here.

The Need for a National Adult Hep B Vaccine Awareness Day

 

In 2019, the hepatitis B community successfully advocated for the introduction of  U.S. House and Senate resolutions to designate April 30th as National Adult Hepatitis B Vaccination Awareness Day for the first time!

Why is Awareness about Adult Hep B Vaccination Needed? 

Adults in the United States have extremely low rates of vaccination, primarily because many were born before the vaccine became a healthcare standard and mandated for school. Just 25% of all U.S. adults have completed their vaccine series. Without completing the series, individuals are still vulnerable to potential exposures; one dose of the vaccine is not enough. Coupled with the recent increase in injection drug use, low vaccination rates among adults have been driving a rise in acute hepatitis B cases across the nation. The new cases that are linked to injection drug use are particularly prevalent among adults aged 30 to 49. Unfortunately, newly infected women may be unaware of their status and may pass the virus on to their infants during birth, putting them at significantly higher risk of chronic infection and liver cancer.

Image Courtesy of National Foundation for Infectious Diseases

Immunization rates remain low among vulnerable populations including those living with other chronic conditions such as hepatitis C, HIV, kidney disease, or diabetes. In fact, just 12% of diabetic adults 60 years old or older are fully vaccinated, and 26% of diabetic adults ages 19-59 have received the complete vaccine series. Healthcare workers are an under-vaccinated vulnerable population as well. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just 60% of healthcare personnel have completed their vaccine series. 

National Adult Hepatitis B Vaccine Awareness Day Resolution

The National Adult Hepatitis B Vaccine Awareness Day Resolution (H.Res. 331) was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Representatives Hank Johnson (GA-4) and Grace Meng (NY-6) – the Congressional Hepatitis Caucus’ co-chairs. A similar resolution (S. Res. 177)  was also introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senators Maize Hirono (HI) and Angus King (ME). 

This resolution is an opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of the hepatitis B vaccine for providers and community members, as well as providing support for testing, vaccination, and linkage to care for individuals. In addition, the resolution helps encourage a commitment to increasing hepatitis B vaccination rates for adults while maintaining high childhood vaccination rates. 

Hepatitis B Vaccine

The modern hepatitis B vaccine has been widely used – with over 1 billion doses given – since it was created in 1985, and has been proven to be one of the safest and most effective vaccines in the world! The 3-dose vaccine is given over the span of 6 months, and provides lifelong protection once completed. Adults can also be fully vaccinated with a new 2-dose vaccine called Heplisav-B! Heplisav-B can be completed in just one month and has been proven to be highly effective in populations that may be hard to vaccinate, such as older adults and people living with diabetes. 

Raising awareness about adult hepatitis B vaccination is a small, but essential step in the journey towards the elimination of hepatitis B. With national support and resources, the U.S. can protect vulnerable communities from serious liver damage and even liver cancer. 

You can show your support for National Adult Hepatitis B Vaccine Day by using the hashtag #AdultHepBVaxDay on April 30th and when discussing the hepatitis B vaccine on social media! Graphics are also available to share throughout your networks.

Please see the below links to access additional resources on adult hepatitis B vaccination:

If Hepatitis B Is Sexually Transmitted, How Come My Partner Isn’t Infected?

Image courtesy of Canva

I thought hepatitis B was sexually transmitted? I just tested positive, but my partner tested negative, we’ve been together for years, what gives?

This question is a common one. Hepatitis B is indeed easily transmitted sexually, so why do some people — who were not vaccinated — never get hepatitis B from their sexual partners?

It comes down to variables, 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, and other 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 one’s blood and body fluids are. 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 HBV and can spread infection, though the risk is lower.

So, the rule here is 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, 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 in semen or vaginal fluids, then 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.

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 and immediately vaccinated if the uninfected partner tests negative for the hepatitis B surface antibody.

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

Find an earlier version of this post here

What Do I Do if I’m a Hepatitis B Vaccine Non-Responder?

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Approximately 5-10% of people do not develop protective antibodies following the completion of the hepatitis B vaccine series.  This is confirmed with a blood test called an anti-HBs titer test which is given 4 weeks following the completion of the series. If the test shows the titer is less then 10 mIU/mL the general recommendation is to complete the series again using a different brand of vaccine (e.g. if you received Engerix B, the first time, switch to Recombivax the 2nd time or vice-versa).  A person is considered to be a “non-responder” if they have completed 2 full vaccination series’ without producing adequate protective antibodies.

Another vaccine option is the new two-dose hepatitis B vaccine, HEPLISAV-BTM. The new vaccine is expected to increase immunization rates for adults in the United States and is administered over a one-month period. The vaccine provides greater seroprotection, which can mean a greater antibody response especially in adults who may be older, obese or live with type 2 diabetes making it an effective vaccine option.

It is also possible that a person who does not respond to the vaccine may already be infected with hepatitis B. Therefore, testing for the presence of the hepatitis B virus (hepatitis B surface antigen or HBsAg) is recommended before diagnosing a person as a “vaccine non-responder.”

CDC Recommendations for Hepatitis B Vaccine Non-Responders

  • Persons who do not respond to the primary hepatitis B vaccine series (i.e., anti-HBs <10 mIU/mL) should complete a second 3-dose vaccine series or be evaluated to determine if they are HBsAg-positive. Persons who do not respond to an initial 3-dose vaccine series have a 30%–50% chance of responding to a second 3-dose series.
  • Revaccinated persons should be retested at the completion of the second vaccine series, 1-2 months following the last shot of the series.
  • Persons exposed to HBsAg-positive blood or body fluids who are known not to have responded to a primary vaccine series should receive a single dose of hepatitis B immunoglobulin (HBIG) and restart the hepatitis B vaccine series with the first dose of the hepatitis B vaccine as soon as possible after exposure. Alternatively, they should receive two doses of HBIG, one dose as soon as possible after exposure, and the second dose 1 month later.
  • The option of administering one dose of HBIG and restarting the vaccine series is preferred for non-responders who did not complete a second 3-dose vaccine series.
  • For persons who previously completed a second vaccine series but failed to respond, two doses of HBIG are preferred.

Hepatitis B vaccine “non-responders” who test negative for hepatitis B infection are at risk for being infected and should be counseled regarding how to prevent a hepatitis B infection and to seek immediate medical care to receive a dose of hepatitis B immunoglobulin (HBIG) if they have been exposed to potentially infected blood.

“Non-responders” who test negative for hepatitis B infection as well as friends and family members should practice ways to prevent the spread of hepatitis B, including washing hands, using condoms during sex, avoid direct contact with blood and bodily fluids, and more.

Hepatitis B vaccine “non-responders” to vaccination who test positive for hepatitis B infection should be counseled regarding how to prevent transmitting the hepatitis B virus to others and the need for regular medical care and monitoring for their chronic infection.

In the case of possible exposures to HBV infected blood or body fluids, it is recommended that non-responders receive 2 doses of hepatitis B immunoglobulin (HBIG) – the first dose should be given within 24 hours of the exposure, and the second dose should be given 1 month later.  The CDC has recommendations online for what to do in case a susceptible person is possibly exposed to the hepatitis B virus.

Check out our previous post on the topic here.

References:

CDC Guidance for Evaluating Health-Care Personnel for Hepatitis B Virus Protection and for Administering Postexposure Management. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr6210a1.htm

HEPLISAV-B. Retrieved from: https://heplisavb.com/

If Hepatitis B Is Sexually Transmitted, How Come My Partner Isn’t Infected?

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

By Christine Kukka

I thought hepatitis B was sexually transmitted? I just tested positive, but my partner tested negative, we’ve been together for years, what gives?

This question is a common one. Hepatitis B is indeed easily transmitted sexually, so why do some people — who were not vaccinated — never get hepatitis B from their sexual partners?

It comes down to variables, 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, and other 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 one’s blood and body fluids are. However, having an undetectable viral load doesn’t mean you won’t infected someone during unsafe sex. Even if a man has an undetectable viral load, studies show his semen still contains some HBV and can spread infection, though the risk is lower.

So the rule here is 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, than the reverse. Women are on the receiving end of semen, which greatly increases their risk of becoming infected unless a condom is used.

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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 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 to hepatitis B in semen or vaginal fluids, then 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.

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 infected years ago (or earlier in the relationship) with hepatitis B and cleared the acute infection.

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 and immediately vaccinated if the uninfected partner tests negative for the hepatitis B surface antibody.

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

What Stands Between Your Family and a Deadly Disease? Safe and Effective Immunizations

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

By Christine Kukka

Are you dreading taking your kids for their back-to-school vaccinations or wondering if vaccines do more harm than good? Let me tell you about my neighborhood.

Three years ago, a neighbor’s children came down with whooping cough (pertussis). It turns out, the parents didn’t believe in vaccinating their kids. All three children were infected as was their elderly grandmother and two other children down the street.

This family’s refusal to get vaccinated against this highly-infectious respiratory disease threatened the health of the neighborhood. Two doors away, a family had a new baby and the infant’s brother played with the infected children. Babies can’t be vaccinated against pertussis until they’re six months old.

Half of all babies who contract pertussis are hospitalized because they can’t clear the heavy mucus from their lungs. Of those hospitalized, 23 percent get pneumonia and 1 percent die.  Before the pertussis vaccine became available, about 9,000 children died from the infection every year. Luckily, the baby wasn’t infected in this micro-epidemic.

Here’s another example why vaccines are worth the discomfort of a shot. My daughter, born in China, didn’t have access to immunizations, including the birth dose of the hepatitis B vaccine. As a result, she is chronically infected with hepatitis B. Had she been born in a country that immunizes children, she wouldn’t face the 15 to 25 percent risk of dying from liver disease that she faces today.

Immunizations are safe and effective, and they protect our families and our communities, which is why every child should be immunized before they start school this fall. So why doesn’t everyone protect their children?

Image courtesy of arztsamui at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Image courtesy of arztsamui at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Scientist and astrophysicist Neal deGrasse Tyson has a theory about why some people don’t believe science—even when it’s confirmed by objective, clinical data. Examples include conservatives who disavow global warming and, Tyson pointed out, college-educated Americans who don’t vaccinate their children.

In the U.S., it is college-educated parents who make up a large percentage of people who opt out of vaccination. Despite clear, scientific evidence, they believe vaccines pose a higher risk to their children than the diseases they prevent. These parents assume that because so many others immunize their children, these diseases have “gone away” and they don’t have to. It’s a dangerous and arrogant assumption.

Reliance on this “herd immunity” approach, which banks on enough people being immunized so the overall disease risk remains low, doesn’t work. Infectious diseases really never go away, and they come back with a vengeance when a growing number of community members stop vaccinating their children.

The pertussis strain that infected the U.S. and my neighborhood two years ago was a particularly bad one. Researchers believe the vaccine wasn’t 100 percent able to prevent that strain. Viruses mutate and things like this happen. But when it does, having a sizeable portion of a community not immunized acts as an accelerant to an epidemic.

There are already children and adults in every community who can’t be vaccinated (even when they want to be) because of health problems, or they have weak immune systems that do not respond well to immunization, such as the elderly. Herd immunity helps these people with weak immune systems, but it loses its effectiveness when a growing number of people opt out of immunizations and endanger public health.

There is real science confirming the safety and value of immunizations:

  • Before the measles vaccine became available, there were 500,000 measles cases every year in the U.S. and 500 deaths. By 2000, the country had eradicated the infection.  However, in 2014 as more parents opted out of immunizations, the country experienced 667 measles cases in 27 states including an outbreak at Disneyland. Most who caught measles were not immunized.
  • Now let’s look at hepatitis B. According to the CDC, new cases of the deadly liver infection hepatitis B have declined 82 percent since 1991, when universal childhood immunizations became available. Before that, an estimated one in 20 Americans got hepatitis B.

Immunizations have been the medical miracle of the last century. Millions of lives have been saved. In observation of National Immunization Awareness Month this August, make sure your school- or college-bound children are up-to-date with their immunizations. And while you’re at it, check your own immunization record. No one is immune.

Four Things Fathers Affected by Hepatitis B Can Do for Themselves and Their Families

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Father’s Day, June 21, is a day to celebrate the contributions men make in their children’s lives. It’s also a good day for fathers to acknowledge how valuable they are to their families and how important it is to take care of their health.

Living with chronic hepatitis B can be challenging. Here are some things dads can do to take care of themselves or family members infected with hepatitis B.

1. Get outside and soak in some sunlight and some vitamin D. People with hepatitis B who have vitamin D deficiencies have higher rates of liver damage, cirrhosis and cancer. A healthy diet provides vitamin D, but 80 percent of our vitamin D comes from 15 minutes of exposure to sunlight two to three times a week. So get outside and walk, garden, exercise and soak in some healthy sunlight.

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