Hep B Blog

Tag Archives: Vaccines

Hepatitis B, Hurricane Irene and Other Natural Disasters

Hurricane Irene is currently slamming the eastern seaboard.  I wrote this blog in anticipation of losing power.  It was a tough week. First, the east coast “earthquake of the century”, and now Hurricane Irene and related flooding.

Last spring, during an incredible deluge of flooding, a tweep (an HBF friend on twitter) was concerned about the increased risk of HBV infection due to flooding.  She asked that I warn flood victims about this potential hepatitis risk.

The risk of hepatitis B is unlikely even with the threat of hurricanes and heavy flooding.  Once again the confusion between hepatitis A and hepatitis B seems to be the issue.  It’s important to know the ABCs of viral hepatitis. Hepatitis A is spread as a result of contaminated food and water, which could readily occur during severe flooding or a natural disaster when clean sources of water may be  hard to come by.  Overcrowding, contaminated water, and compromised sanitation all increase the risk of hepatitis A transmission. This is unlikely with HBV since it is transmitted through blood or body fluid contact of an infected person to an open wound, mucous membrane or orifice of another person.  Perhaps over a long period of time with a catastrophe of historic proportions, the odds of transmission would be increased, but in most cases it is extremely unlikely.  Some of this would also be dependent on the conditions prior to the disaster, and the projected length of time in overcrowded conditions, without adequate sanitation and clean water sources.  The worse the conditions, perhaps a country already struggling, or lacking the infrastructure to provide clean water, or adequate sanitation,  the higher the likelihood. The emergency response time and actions might also contribute. Once again this would vary with the country or area, and the infrastructure in place prior to the disaster.

Getting vaccinated against hepatitis A and B is kind of like a mini insurance policy, or pulling together an emergency supply kit for your family. You never know when you’re going to need it, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Flashlights and replacement batteries are impossible to find hours before the storm. In the midst of a disaster, or in those precious hours before a disaster occurs, it is unlikely potential hurricane or flood victims are going to flock to their Primary Care Physician to ensure they are vaccinated against Hepatitis A and B.  However, it is yet another reminder that we are all vulnerable.  Should the opportunity exist to get the vaccine against HBV and HAV, whether separately or in combination, it is certainly worth pursuing during a time of calm rather than waiting for an emergency.  The vaccines are safe and effective.  Get vaccinated and be safe.

Sending Your Child to Camp with HBV

Got a camper in your house with HBV?  Are you concerned about filling out the mountain of paperwork associated with sending your child off to a day camp, or over-night camp this summer?  The paper work is not consistent from camp to camp, and quite often probing health questions may be asked.  If you’re a parent with a child with HBV, seeing it in print will likely be unnerving.

Camp forms will have a health history section which may start with the following:

Does the camper have a history of any of the following?  Check all that apply.

A long list of conditions including things like asthma, diabetes, migraines, surgery, and physical disabilities may be on the list, along with the possibility of “other” accompanied by a blank-line.  It is also possible there will be a box specifically for hepatitis B.

Personally, I would NOT check the “other” box, nor would I list hepatitis B on the line following “other”.   I would also NOT check the box if the medical history specifically refers to hepatitis B, or viral hepatitis.  I would also not consider my child’s liver biopsy as a “surgery”. There is NO need to offer up unnecessary information that does not pertain to the safety of your child’s camp experience.

Here is my thinking.  A condition like diabetes, asthma, or even allergies may well require acute care while the camper is at camp.  A nurse or staff person may be responsible for administering medication for this acute condition.  Children with hepatitis B are rarely symptomatic and have compensated livers. They can take prescribed or OTC drugs you and your doctor have noted on the paperwork.  The likelihood of an emergency occurring due to the child’s HBV is nil, and in the event of an unrelated emergency, your child’s liver would tolerate emergency services necessary to stabilize him.  Life saving decisions would be left in the hands of an emergency care facility and ER trained staff.

There is always the concern that camp staff should be notified in order to protect them in case of accidental exposure, but I believe this is unnecessary.  We live in a small world and disclosing a child’s HBV status to camp staff may come back to haunt you.  HBV is vaccine preventable, and staff should be up-to-date on their immunizations.  Standard precautions training is a must for camp staff.  This will protect staff and all children from potential exposure to body fluids, such as blood, if protocols are properly followed. 

Because HBV and HCV are typically asymptomatic, and children are not screened prior to attending camp, you have to assume that someone else at camp will have HBV, HCV or even HIV. 

If you can’t get past concerns regarding your child and her HBV, then perhaps you need to re-consider camp for this summer.  We all have our own comfort level, and we get there in our own time.  However, my advice is to relax, fill out the forms, and send your happy camper off to camp!

Why Vaccinate Infants Against Hepatitis B?

Sadly, out of all age groups, it is infants and very young children that are at the greatest risk for acquiring a chronic, life-long infection with hepatitis B.  In fact 90% of babies exposed to HBV will become chronically infected, and will live with the virus for the rest of their lives.  This includes mother-to-child transmission, and horizontal transmission from close contacts.  This is why the first dose of the hepatitis B vaccine is recommended before leaving the hospital.  The vaccine is safe and effective.  Choosing to vaccinate is an option those of us with HBV infected children would have LOVED to have.

Hepatitis B is a silent disease.  Forty percent of people living with HBV have no idea how they became infected.  Others have not yet been diagnosed.   Many likely acquired it at birth, or early exposure, and have had the virus smoldering for decades.  They may find out about it in routine blood tests, or from the Red Cross following a blood donation.  Hepatitis B is non-discriminating, although it is more prevalent in certain high risk groups.   Sometimes being part of a high risk group is as simple as having a parent born in a country where HBV is endemic.  Hepatitis B is 100 times more infectious than HIV, and yet many people say they would get vaccinated against HIV if a vaccine existed.  Why not hepatitis B?

So why have your infant vaccinated at birth?  It just makes sense.  How can you be assured all house-hold contacts are not infected?  War heroes get infected, as do health care workers, and other loving family members – mommies, daddies, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  Parents go to work, and little ones go to day care.  They play at the neighbor’s house or with friends at pre-school.  Blood spills occur and sometimes they’re not properly managed, or even noticed.   Boo-boo’s come uncovered and little friends touch.  Sometimes “love-bites” are exchanged much to the dismay of parents.  Even the most vigilant parent is going to miss something.   HBV is not transmitted casually, but the possibility of exposure cannot be denied – especially at such a young age.

Hepatitis B is a poster-child for infant vaccination.  It is a tenacious virus, and there is no true cure.  If you are a pregnant woman, be sure you are tested for hepatitis B during your pregnancy.  If you are HBV positive, break the cycle One in five at-risk babies in the U.S. may NOT be receiving the necessary treatment, so SPEAK UP and ensure your baby receives prophylaxis treatment at birth.  Complete the vaccine series and have your baby tested for HBV at his one-year checkup to ensure he is protected.

If you are not HBV positive give yourself piece-of-mind.  When your baby is born, be sure to have her vaccinated before you leave the hospital, and give her a lifetime of protection against hepatitis B.

Got Hepatitis B? B Sure to Take Care of U!

As a mother of a child with hepatitis B, I was always concerned my child would transmit the virus to others.  One day a toddler came up and bit her in the finger and drew blood.  She was strapped into her stroller, and yet I felt guilty and fearful she might transmit the virus to “the biter”.  I rushed my child to the pediatrician, and immediately inquired about the safety of the other toddler.  He reminded me that that “blood is a two-way street for the transmission of infectious diseases”.   I should worry about MY child.   The other child was likely vaccinated since HBV vaccination is required in my state. I heeded his advice, and from that day forth I started thinking about the safety of MY child and others infected with HBV.

Fortunately, hepatitis B is a vaccine preventable disease, so that does ease concerns regarding the transmission of HBV to others.  A simple three shot HBV vaccine series does the trick.  There is no reason someone should NOT be protected against a vaccine preventable virus that is 100 times more infectious than HIV!   Stop feeling guilty, and start thinking about protecting YOU!

If you have HBV, Hepatitis A (HAV) can be very dangerous.   HAV is vaccine preventable.  A simple two shot series will keep all those with or without HBV safe from highly-contagious HAV.

Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for HCV or HIV.  If you are HBV+, a  co-infection is complicated and dangerous, and can result in significant liver damage.  The best way to combat infection from HCV, HIV and other infectious diseases is to use standard precautions.

Make standard precautions part of your everyday life.  Simple hand washing and proper avoidance of contact with someone else’s blood and body fluids is an easy way to avoid transmission of potentially life threatening illnesses, or any illness.  Cover open cuts with a Band-Aid.  Provide a barrier between someone else’s blood or body fluids, and any open wounds, sores, mucus membranes and orifices.  You don’t want to get infected with another blood borne pathogen!  Does this mean you need to look like someone out of a bio-hazard lab with goggles and gloves?  No!  Use common sense, and you can be safe without going overboard.   A simple barrier between you and someone else’s body fluids is the best way to avoid exposure.  Keep something like a clean diaper, towel or wrapped sanitary pad, in a plastic baggie, in your car, and on each level of your home.

Personal toiletries should be just that…personal.  Keep your toothbrush away from your sibling, friend or SO. Neatly dispose of used feminine hygiene products because it’s the right thing to do.  Don’t leave your razor or nail clippers lying around.  Sharp, personal objects really are a perfect transmission route for infectious disease.

Got HBV?  Remember, keep YOURSELF safe!  And the kid in the stroller… well she’s a teen, today.  Now there’s a whole new set of worries.