WHAT IS IT?
Hepatitis B is a viral infection that affects the liver. It can be found in blood and body fluids including vaginal fluids, semen, breast milk, and saliva of individuals carrying the infection. Most hepatitis B infections are short-term and will go away on their own. However, in about 5% of adult cases, hepatitis B turns into a chronic condition.
HOW WOULD I GET IT?
Hepatitis B is passed on through vaginal, anal, or oral sex with an infected person. It can also be spread through exposure to infected blood or blood products, such as sharing equipment for injection drug use or tattooing. Occasionally, hepatitis B can be passed on through contact with shared household items such as toothbrushes and razors, and it can also be passed on from an infected mother to an infant during childbirth.
HOW WOULD I KNOW I HAD IT?
Up to 50% of persons infected with Hep B have no outward signs or symptoms (sexualityandu.ca, 2007). If someone does develop symptoms, they will likely appear within 8 weeks after exposure to the virus. These symptoms often mimic the flu and may include the following:
• Nausea and vomiting
• Decreased appetite
• Joint pain
• Yellowing of the eyes and skin (rare)
There is a blood test available that can tell you if you are carrying the hepatitis B virus. For more information about this test, please visit the STI Testing section of our website.
CAN IT BE TREATED AND CURED?
Most individuals (90%) infected with hepatitis B will naturally produce antibodies to fight the disease (i.e., they are cured of the virus without receiving treatment). However, some individuals will develop chronic hepatitis B, which means that they will carry the virus for the rest of their lives. It also means that they can pass on the virus to others for life. Although chronic hepatitis B cannot be cured, persons with this infection may benefit from treatment with interferon or an anti-viral medication.
There is a vaccine available for hepatitis B and you can make an appointment to receive it from one of our nurses at HSHC.
IF IT ISN’T TREATED, CAN IT LEAD TO MORE SERIOUS PROBLEMS?
Yes. Chronic infection of hepatitis B can lead to serious liver damage, including cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and cancer. Therefore, it is highly recommended that persons who develop chronic hepatitis B have their liver function monitored regularly. It is also important for pregnant women with chronic hepatitis B infection to talk with their doctors about their medical history, as their babies are at high risk for becoming chronic carriers. Infants can receive an injection of antibodies immediately after birth, followed by a vaccine to limit this risk.
For more information about hepatitis, please visit www.hepatitisoutreachsociety.com