Hepatitis B

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  • What is it? The Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is very common worldwide. HBV is a virus that can cause inflammation of the liver. It’s potentially very serious. Most people who catch Hepatitis B will only suffer from early stage Hepatitis B (acute). About 1 in 20 will develop the more serious ‘chronic’ Hepatitis B that can cause serious damage to your liver. In 2004, around 700 acute cases of Hepatitis B were diagnosed in England and Wales.
  • Symptoms Some people may have no symptoms at all but can still pass on the virus. If they are evident symptoms occur from 2-6 months after infection Symptoms may include:
  • A short, flu-like illness
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Jaundice (yellow skin and whites of eyes, darker yellow urine and pale faeces)
  • Itchy skin

Some people may need to be admitted to hospital. Most adults infected with the Hepatitis B virus fully recover and develop life-long immunity. Between 2% and 10% of individuals infected as adults will become chronic carriers, which means they will be infectious to others and can develop chronic liver damage if a person continues to be infected over a number of years with the Hepatitis B virus, they could develop the following complications:

  • liver cirrhosis
  • liver cancer
  • liver failure
  • Transmission: It is very infectious and can be passed on in a number of ways:-
  • By unprotected penetrative sex (where the penis enters the vagina or anus) or sex which draws blood (Hepatitis B spreads about 100 times more easily than HIV)
  • By oral sex (from mouth to the genitals)
  • By sharing needles or other drug injecting equipment contaminated with blood
  • By using equipment for tattooing, acupuncture or body-piercing contaminated with blood
  • From an infected mother to her baby
  • Through a blood transfusion in a country where blood is not tested (all blood for transfusion is tested in the UK) 
  • Treatment: Hepatitis B can be diagnosed by a simple blood test. If tested positive this could mean:-

  • Past infection; this means that you have been in contact with HBV and your body has rejected it. You now have a natural protection against the virus

Or

  • You carry HBV; this means you can pass it on to others. You are also at risk of chronic liver disease and may be referred to a specialist centre for further assessment tests. If this comes back positive you may need a small sample of liver tissue to be taken (a liver biopsy) to determine how much Hepatitis B may be affecting the liver, and what may be the best treatment for this. Many people do not require treatment, as inflammation of the liver may not be severe. If you do need treatment you may be offered interferon injections or antiviral tablets, which can reduce Hepatitis B damage

If tested negative this means you may never been in contact with HBV and have no natural protection against it. If there is a chance you have been recently exposed to the virus, your doctor may advise you to have a repeat test and be immunised against Hepatitis B.

  • Immunisation: This is available particularly for people who are at regarded as high risk of getting Hepatitis B. This includes gay men, injecting drug users, sex workers and sexual partners of people with Hepatitis B. Three injections of Hepatitis B vaccine are given over a period of 3-6 months. A blood test is then taken to check the immunisations have worked. You should then be immune for at least 5 years.
  • Post Treatment: If diagnosed as having an active infection with Hepatitis B, you will be advised to:- 
  • Have regular blood tests and physical check-ups
  • Limit the amount of alcohol you drink
  • Avoid fatty foods and follow a low-salt diet
  • Use a condom for penetrative sex to prevent passing on the virus
  • Not share toothbrushes or shaving equipment

Click here for a list of agencies you can contact should you require further information or help.

If there are any health workers that could help us keep our pages updated please mail us as we are very aware that new research and information is constantly being published on Hepatitis B. Your help would be much appreciated.

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