Hepatitis B is a virus that causes inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis B virus (HBV) can be experienced as an “acute” infection causing mild illness for a few weeks or months or as a more serious “chronic” infection lasting a lifetime. Chronic HBV infection can cause complications such as cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and even lead to liver cancer.
Hepatitis B is More Common Than You Think
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates as many as 2.2 million persons in the U.S. are living with chronic hepatitis B.
Hepatitis B Is Most Commonly Transmitted Through Sexual Contact
Hepatitis B is transmitted through contact with infected body fluids such as semen, vaginal secretions, and blood. HBV is most often transmitted through sexual contact but can also be contracted when injecting drug users share needles and other injecting equipment. Mothers with HBV can also pass the virus to their infants during birth.
But Most Don’t Know They Have It
Adults often have few – if any- symptoms. When they occur, symptoms can be mistaken for the flu (nausea and vomiting, malaise, loss of appetite and abdominal pain). Some people with hepatitis B also experience jaundice, a yellowing of the eyes or skin.
The Only Way to Know is to Get Tested
The only way to know for sure is to test! Ask your health care provider if a test for HBV or other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are right for you. Special blood tests are used that can detect either HBV particles or antibodies (proteins in the blood your body produces against infections). Blood tests can determine if someone with hepatitis B has an acute or chronic infection.
It’s Easy to Prevent
Use male or female condoms (sometimes called external or internal condoms) each time you have sex. While they don’t provide 100% protection against hepatitis B and other STIs, when used consistently and correctly condoms are one of the best ways to reduce your risk for hepatitis B and other STIs. Those sharing households with someone diagnosed with HBV should contact with infected blood or other body fluids directly or on objects such as needles, razors, toothbrushes, and the like. Clean surfaces contaminated with blood or other body fluids with a solution of 1 part household bleach and 10 parts water.
There is a vaccine that can prevent hepatitis B! CDC recommends hepatitis B vaccination for sex partners of anyone who has hepatitis B; anyone who is sexually active but not in a long-term, monogamous relationship; those treated for STD/STIs; and men who have sex with men. Others may benefit from vaccination against HBV so ask your health care provider what is recommended for you.
For more on HBV and other STIs visit www.ASHAsexualhealth.org and follow us at #ISpeakSexHealth.