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Hepatitis B Virus (HBV)

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The OSDH Sexual Health and Harm Reduction Service provides hepatitis B & C prevention activities, including but not limited to, education, vaccination and Perinatal hepatitis B prevention activities.


What is Hepatitis?

Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver.  The liver processes  nutrients, filters the blood and fights infections.  When the liver is inflamed or damaged, how it works can be impacted.

Hepatitis B Virus

Hepatitis B is a liver disease that results from infection with the Hepatitis B virus. Its severity can range a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious illness that could last a lifetime. The hepatitis B virus is 50-100 times more infectious than HIV which makes it very easily transmitted. The hepatitis B virus can survive outside the body for at least a week. During this time, the virus can still cause infection if it enters the body of an uninfected person. Hepatitis B can be a very serious liver disease.

Acute Hepatitis B Virus Infection

This refers to a short-term infection that occurs within 6 months after someone is infected with the virus. Some people are able to clear the disease from their system without having any symptoms and without needing any treatment or hospitalization. People who clear the virus from their system without requiring treatment get immune to the hepatitis B virus and cannot get infected with the virus again.

Chronic Hepatitis B Virus Infection

This refers to the lifelong infection with the hepatitis B virus. The chances that a person will be chronically infected with the hepatitis B virus is dependent on their age, at which the person gets infected with the virus. More than 90% of infants that are infected with the hepatitis B virus will develop a chronic infection compared to 5% of adults that will become chronically infected with the hepatitis B virus. 15%-25% of chronically infected persons will develop chronic liver disease. As time progresses, the hepatitis virus can cause serious health issues including lover damage, cirrhosis, liver cancer and even death. An estimated 3,000 people in the United States die from HBV-related illness per year.

Transmission: How is Hepatitis B Spread?

The hepatitis B virus is usually spread when blood, semen and other body fluids from a person that is infected with the hepatitis B virus enters the body of an individual who is not infected with the hepatitis B virus. The virus can spread through the following means;

  • Sex with an infected person: the virus can spread when someone who does not have the hepatitis B virus has sexual contact with a person that is infected with the virus.
  • Injection drug use: sharing needles, syringes, or other drug-injection equipment with someone who is infected with the hepatitis B virus is a way that an uninfected person can get infected with the virus.
  • Needle sticks or other sharp instrument injuries: this is seen among healthcare workers and people who work with such equipment.
  • Birth: Hepatitis B infection can be passed from an infected mother her baby during delivery, at birth. Around the world, most people who are infected with the illness were infected as infants.

Note that the hepatitis B virus is not spread through breastfeeding, sharing eating utensils, hugging, kissing, holding hands, coughing, or sneezing. Hepatitis B virus is also not spread through contaminated food or water unlike some other forms of hepatitis virus.

Prevention and Vaccination

The best way to prevent hepatitis B virus is to get vaccinated against the virus. The vaccine is usually given as a series of 3 shots over a period of 6 months. For long-term protection, the entire series is required. If at risk, get vaccinated for HBV. HBV vaccination is recommended in certain settings such as:

  • Sexually transmitted disease treatment facilities
  • Facilities that provide drug-abuse treatment and prevention services
  • HIV testing and treatment facilities
  • Correctional facilities
  • Healthcare settings with services for injection drug users
  • Healthcare services with services targeting men who have sex with men
  • Chronic hemodialysis facilities as well as programs for people with end stage liver disease
  • Nonresidential day care facilities for people with development disabilities as well as institutions for this purpose

Symptoms

Many people who are infected with the hepatitis B virus do not have any symptoms. Those that do develop symptoms may experience fever, tiredness, lack of appetite, upset stomach, vomiting, dark urine, grey-colored stool, joint pain, and yellow skin and eyes. With an acute infection, if symptoms occur, they would be within 3 months of exposure to the virus and can last up to 6 months. If symptoms occur with a chronic infection, they can take years to develop and can be a sign of advanced liver disease.

Testing

Getting tested for the virus is the only way that you can know if you are infected. Typically, blood tests are able to determine if an individual has been infected and cleared the virus, or if that individual is currently infected or has never been infected.

Treatment

For acute hepatitis B virus infections, doctors usually recommend rest, adequate nutrition, fluids and close medication monitoring. Some people may need to be hospitalized.

If diagnosed with chronic hepatitis B it is important to note that people with chronic hepatitis B can live a long and healthy life. While there is no complete cure for the illness, decisions made by an individual to protect their liver can go a long way. Such decisions involve, avoiding the use of alcohol and tobacco, regular visits to a liver specialist or healthcare provider, and eating healthy. While there are approved drugs for both adults and children, it is important to note that not everyone who is diagnosed with chronic hepatitis B virus needs to be on medication. This is because current treatments for the virus are seen to be effective in people who show signs of active liver disease.

It is very important that individuals who have been diagnosed with hepatitis B are seen by a liver specialist regardless of if they are on medication or not. The recommendation is for them to be seen every 6 months.

If an uninfected, unvaccinated person or anyone who does not know their hepatitis B status comes in contact with blood from a hepatitis B positive person, post exposure prophylaxis, if administered in a timely manner could prevent infection and development of a chronic infection or liver disease.

Resources

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