Hep B Blog

Tag Archives: when one partner has hepatitis B and the other does not

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

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

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

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

Preventing Transmission through Vaccines:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 factors, such as the type of sexual activity partners engage in, the viral load (HBV DNA) of the infected partner, and who is on the receiving end of infectious body fluids, especially blood (which contains the most virus), and semen.

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

Let’s look at the factors that may play a role in transmission of hepatitis B infection through sexual activity.

Viral load: Semen, vaginal fluids and blood all contain the hepatitis B virus (HBV), and the higher the viral load in the blood of an infected individual, the more infectious they are considered to be. Having an undetectable viral load might reduce or eliminate the chance of transmitting the virus to someone during unprotected sex; research is still trying to assess whether a person with an undetectable viral load in the blood is able to transmit the virus through sex. This is a good reason for individuals living with hepatitis B to talk to their doctor about the benefits of starting antivirals if they have detectable HBV viral load in their blood; treatment which lowers the viral load in the blood might also serve as a prevention measure for transmitting the virus.

Once an individual tests positive for hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg), they should encourage their partners to get screened for hepatitis B, and vaccinated if they are still susceptible to the .

The timing of sexual activity: An infected person who is menstruating is more likely to transmit hepatitis B infection to an unvaccinated partner, because menstrual blood can contain higher levels of HBV than vaginal secretions. That is why dental dams and condoms are recommended to provide a reasonable barrier against exposure, during that time of the month.

The type of sexual activity: Certain sexual activities are far more efficient at transmitting hepatitis B virus than others. Oral sex appears to have a lower rate of hepatitis B transmission than vaginal sex. Anal sex carries a higher risk of transmission because of tears in the skin that can occur during penetration, which increases the likelihood of transmission of HBV to an unvaccinated partner.

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

The hepatitis B status of the other partner: The “uninfected” partner could have already been infected and cleared the virus, or vaccinated as an infant. 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 advised to receive the hepatitis B vaccine as soon as possible. However, this does not mean that they were never infected.

Testing for the hepatitis B surface antibody (also known as anti-HBs or HBsAb), and hepatitis B core antibody (HBcAb) is the only way to identify a past recovered infection or prior vaccination.

Hepatitis B is often called the “silent” infection because many people who get hepatitis B may not experience any of the alarming symptoms (like fever or jaundice). As a result, many individuals may never realize they were infected. A partner 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 vaccinated without proper screening, then tested for HBsAb after 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 partner is diagnosed with hepatitis B and the other is not, it might seem unusual, but it is not uncommon. Just like any other virus, there is not a 100% chance of transmission with exposure. The undiagnosed partner should get tested using the 3-panel blood test (HBsAg, HBsAb, and HBcAb) and immediately vaccinated if they are still vulnerable to a hepatitis B infection (HBsAb negative).

The is safe, effective, and provides lifelong protection.

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