Hepatitis B is spread when blood or bodily fluids from a person infected with the hepatitis B virus enters the body of someone else. The virus is 100 times more infectious than HIV and can last for up to 7 days outside the body.
Sex without a condom. Sexual risk is heightened with sex that damages the vaginal or anal lining, or when one has another sexually transmitted disease such as HIV.
Sharing personal hygiene equipment, such as toothbrushes, razors and nail clippers.
Mother-to-child transmission at birth.
Getting tattoos or body piercings with non-sterile* equipment.
*Non-sterile means not free from any living organisms. Things can look clean, but still be non-sterile.
Hepatitis B is described in terms of acute and chronic infection.
Acute refers to the first six months after infection takes place. Symptoms may develop during this phase, but don’t always. If hepatitis B is acquired during childhood, there are usually no symptoms and a high risk of developing a chronic infection.
Most adults manage to ‘clear’ (kill) the virus during the acute stage and are free of hepatitis afterwards. Some adults develop a chronic (long-term) infection. Over time this can cause serious health problems including liver inflammation and scarring, liver failure and liver cancer.
Symptoms, if they occur, are the same in both phases.
Testing is the only way to be sure of your hepatitis B status.
Blood tests are required to assess infection with hepatitis B.
Many people with the hepatitis B virus do not know they are infected because they do not have symptoms.
Antibody tests can tell if people have ever been vaccinated, or infected with hepatitis B. Antigen tests can tell whether you currently have hepatitis B.
An antigen is anything that causes the body to produce an immune response to keep you healthy.
Vaccination can protect you from contracting hepatitis B. For adults, the hepatitis B vaccine is given as a series of 3 injections over a period of 3 or 6 months. All three injections are needed for full protection. Booster injections, after one year, are sometimes advised.
Chronic hepatitis B is very difficult to cure with current medications, and treatment is usually life-long. However, anti-viral therapy is able to manage the effects of the infection and prevent the development of complications such as liver inflammation and scarring and liver failure. It also reduces the risk of liver cancer.
All patients with chronic hepatitis B need to be monitored their whole lives, but the need for, and the type of, therapy is determined by the phase of the chronic hepatitis B infection and the individual’s health status.
It is very important to take your treatment as prescribed by your healthcare provider. Stopping treatment can result in a flare up of infection. Not taking the medication all the time can result in developing a hepatitis B infection that is resistant to medication.
Being sick with more than one virus can make you sicker quicker.