Hepatitis B is a sexual transmitted infection (STI) that a serious infection of the liver. Symptoms may include tiredness, loss of appetite, stomach discomfort and yellow skin. The virus is found in blood, semen, vaginal fluids and saliva.
Hepatitis B is the only sexually transmitted disease that has a safe and effective vaccine to protect against infection.
How is it transmitted?
Hepatitis B can be passed on through vaginal, anal and oral sex, contaminated needles, and occasionally through sharing items with infected blood on them.
Hepatitis B is passed on through unprotected sex (vaginal, anal and oral) and contaminated needles. Occasionally, you can get it from sharing items like towel, razor blades or a toothbrush that has infected blood on them. It can also spread from mother to newborn.
Many adults have few or no symptoms. Therefore, most people, up to 1 out of 2 people, will be unaware that they have the infection as they will show no symptoms.
For those who do have symptoms, there are two stages of infection; acute and chronic.
When hepatitis B symptoms do occur, they usually appear between 6 weeks and 6 months after infection.
Symptoms may mimic the flu and can include:
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling ill
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dark urine
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes
- Rash, hives, or arthritis may occur prior to the onset of other symptoms
- Extreme tiredness
- Tenderness or pain in the lower abdomen
- Pain in the joints
1% of patients (1%) will have more severe course of illness and may experience sudden and severe liver failure within a short period of time after infection. These people may suddenly collapse with fatigue, have jaundice, and develop swelling in their abdomen. This can be fatal, if not treated immediately.
Symptoms can last up to two months but most people make a full recovery without treatment and never get it again.
For those who can’t fight off the infection, such as new-borns, young children, and people with a weakened immune system because of HIV, the virus will develop into the chronic stage. People at this stage are at higher risk of liver failure, liver disease and cancer of the liver, yet may be unaware of the dangers as symptoms can take years to develop
A simple blood test shows whether you have the virus. You may also have a liver function test to determine whether your liver is damaged.
Most people do not need treatment and recover within a couple of months. Usually, symptoms are managed at home but if the pain becomes more severe, painkillers may be prescribed. You will also be advised to have regular blood tests and physical check-ups.
If you have a chronic infection, your doctor or healthcare worker will prescribe specific treatment to reduce the risk of permanent liver damage and liver cancer.
Hepatitis B can cause liver disease. In fact, about a third of people with chronic hepatitis B will develop a liver disease such as scarring of the liver or cancer of the liver.
A small number die (less than 1%). Others will always carry the virus and continue to be infectious (able to pass it on to others). They are called “carriers.” Some carriers will go on to have chronic liver disease. Some will develop cancer of the liver.
Using condoms, not sharing needles, and avoiding unlicensed tattoo parlors are the best ways to protect yourself from hep B.
If you are in a high-risk group for catching hepatitis B (you inject drugs, are a sex worker, or your occupation exposes you to the virus, e.g. paramedic) you can be immunized against it.
- Hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for all infants, adolescents and sexually active adults.
- Don’t share needles for drugs, tattooing or piercing.
- Avoiding vaginal, oral or anal sex is the best way to prevent STDs.
- Latex condoms, when used consistently and correctly, can reduce the risk of transmission of hepatitis B.
- Always use latex condoms during vaginal and anal sex.
- Use a latex condom for oral sex on a penis.
- Use a latex barrier (dental dam or condom cut in half) for oral sex on a vagina or anus.
- Limit the number of sex partners.
- Don’t share personal items like razors.
- When infant is born to an infected mother, immunize infant at birth.
- Hepatitis B immune globulin injection given within 7 days after blood exposure or 14 days after sexual contact; vaccine may also be recommended.
For a recap and more info do watch this video about Hepatitis B: