hepatitis b

What is Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is a highly contagious virus that attacks the liver. In the mildest case, you may never know you have it, and it may be gone in six months. But some people become carriers for the rest of their lives, infecting others they care about. Others go on to have chronic liver disease.

If you become a carrier, you may develop cirrhosis, a disease that scars the liver, or liver cancer. Your chances of getting liver cancer are up to 300 times higher if you are a hepatitis B carrier.


Why Worry About Hepatitis B When There is AIDS?
If you have unsafe sex, you are putting yourself at risk for hepatitis B, HIV, and all other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). And because hepatitis B is 100 times more infectious than HIV, your chances of getting hepatitis B from each unsafe sex act is greater. Hepatitis B has no cure, but there is a vaccine to prevent infection.

How Common is Hepatitis B?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that each year about 240,000 Americans get hepatitis B. One out of 20 people in this country will get hepatitis B at some time during their life.

Who Gets Hepatitis B?
Anyone can get hepatitis B, but your risk is increased if you:
  • are sexually active
  • have unsafe sex
  • have more than one sex partner
  • have another STD
  • share needles (works)
  • work in health care
  • live with someone who has hepatitis B
  • are a native of or spend time in areas where hepatitis B is widespread. These areas include Alaska, the Pacific Islands, Africa, Asia, parts of the Middle East, and the Amazon region of South America.

How Do You Get Hepatitis B?
You can get hepatitis B from having unsafe sex or from contact with infected blood or body fluids.
From Sex:
Hepatitis B is found in infected semen, vaginal fluids, and saliva. You can get hepatitis B from vaginal, oral, or anal sex.

If your partner has hepatitis B, you may get it also. Having intercourse without a condom or oral sex without a moisture barrier increases your risk. If you have had more than one partner, you have a greater chance of getting infected.

From Blood:
You may get hepatitis B if you are exposed to an infected person's blood. The virus can get into the body through cuts, open sores, or other moist openings like the mouth or the vagina. Though very rare in the U.S., it is possible to get the virus through transfusions of infected blood or blood products.

You can get hepatitis B by sharing personal items such as razors or toothbrushes. You can also get it by sharing any type of needle, including needles for steroid shots, tattooing, or ear piercing.


What are the Symptoms?
Many people with hepatitis B have no symptoms. They don't know they have it unless they get a blood test. But even with no symptoms, they can still become carriers.

Some infected people have jaundice, which causes the skin and eyes to become yellow. Others become very sick and cannot work for weeks or months.

Symptoms of hepatitis B may be like those of a stomach virus. See your health care provider if you are very tired, have nausea, dark urine (pee), and/or yellowing of the eyes and skin. Your health care provider may give you a test to see whether you have hepatitis B.


What is the Treatment?
At this time there is no cure. The only treatment for hepatitis B is rest, with a high protein diet to repair damaged cells and a high carbohydrate diet to protect the liver.

Your health care provider may recommend a shot for you if your sex partner or a member of your household has hepatitis B. This shot will be followed immediately with a series of three hepatitis B vaccinations.


What If I'm Pregnant?
If you have hepatitis B and become pregnant, your baby may get the virus. Talk to your doctor about being tested to protect yourself and the baby. Have the baby vaccinated immediately after it's born.

If you are not infected with hepatitis B, it's important to get vaccinated to protect yourself and your future children.


How Can I Protect Myself?
Get vaccinated. The hepatitis B vaccine can protect you. It is safe and effective.

If you have sex, reduce your risk--use condoms for intercourse or oral sex on a man. Use a moisture barrier such as household plastic wrap or SheerGlyde Dams(TM) for oral sex on a woman. Condoms and moisture barriers help protect you from many STDs, not just hepatitis B.


Should I Get Vaccinated?
Yes. The CDC and other public health officials recommend vaccination for infants and young adults. Young adults need to protect themselves before they become sexually active and before they are exposed to hepatitis B--before it is too late.

What is the Vaccination Like, and What are the Risks?
The vaccine is given in the arm, in three doses. It is important to get all three shots for full protection against hepatitis B.

As with most shots, your arm may be sore for a day, and mild side effects such as fever and headache are rare. More serious side effects are very rare. You cannot get hepatitis B or any other disease from the vaccine.