What is Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is caused by a virus which affects the liver. The virus can be present and passed on in semen, vaginal secretions, saliva and especially blood by:
vaginal, anal or oral sex without a condom
sharing needles, syringes and drug injecting equipment
childbirth (from an infected woman to her child during birth)
sharing tooth brushes, razors or personal items that may lead to the exchange of bodily secretions
any form of blood – contaminated sharp injury
How do you know if you have Hepatitis B?
Symptoms develop usually within 3 months and can range from no symptoms through to a mild flu – like illness that may not be noticed, to nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes).
Most adults (95%) who acquire Hepatitis B recover and develop lifelong immunity, which means they are no longer infectious. However, between 5 – 10% of people remain infectious for many years and are called “carriers”. It is important to have follow – up tests 3 to 6 months after the initial positive test to see if you are a carrier or not.
How do you test for Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is detected by a blood test.
What are the complications of Hepatitis B?
Acute Hepatitis B is occasionally so severe it can be life threatening. Long term Hepatitis B carriers may suffer chronic Hepatitis which may predispose them to cirrhosis of the liver; liver failure or cancer of the liver. It is highly likely that a pregnant mother who is a carrier will pass the infection on to her child; however, giving the baby a special globulin injection and Hepatitis B vaccine immediately at birth can prevent this. Babies who are infected at birth have a very high chance of ending up as carriers and of having liver disease in adulthood.
Hepatitis symptoms noticeable in yellowing of the eyes
What can I do if I have Hepatitis B infection?
In the initial stage of infection resting and avoiding alcohol and other drugs is the recommended method for dealing with the condition, although recovery could take some time. People who have chronic infection should avoid drugs and alcohol or any substance that may affect the liver. Blood tests are usually done to make sure the liver is recovering properly..
What about partners?
Partners of the previous 2 weeks may be helped by a special globulin injection (not vaccine), available from doctors and sexual health clinics. All partners in the previous 6 months should be advised so that they can be tested. For people who remain infectious (carriers) it is important to have future partners vaccinated.
What can be done to help prevent Hepatitis B infection? Hepatitis B is one of the only STI’s which has a preventative vaccine. The vaccine consists of three injections and takes 3 to 6 months to complete the course. You can obtain the vaccine from your local doctor or sexual health service. The following also help to prevent transmission:
Practice safer sex – use a condom when having vaginal, anal or oral sex.
Do not share needles, syringes or injecting drug use equipment.