What is hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is a virus that can cause a serious infection of the liver. Some people who get Hepatitis B don’t know they have it because they never feel sick.
How do I get hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is spread to others by contact with infected blood or body fluids — semen, vaginal fluids and saliva. The infected blood or fluid has to enter a break in the skin or be absorbed through a mucous membrane like the eyes, mouth, vagina and anus in order to be passed onto another person.
Sharing toothbrushes, razors, nail files or other personal items that may have tiny amounts of blood on them can also spread the infection. In fact, the virus can live in dry blood for up to seven days!
Sharing needles and syringes that may have tiny amounts of blood in them can spread the virus to others. Which also means that tattooing or ear/body piercing can be a source of Hep B if the equipment is not new or not sterilized.
A pregnant woman who has Hepatitis B can pass it on to her baby before it’s born so it’s critical that all pregnant women be screened for Hepatitis B as part of their prenatal care.
Hepatitis B is not spread by water, food, kissing, sneezing or coughing.
Do I have hepatitis B?
There are some people infected with Hepatitis B who don’t know it because they don’t have any symptoms. The danger is that you can still pass the infection on to someone else without knowing you have it. There’s a specific blood test that is performed to detect the Hepatitis B virus.
The following symptoms may be present:
- Flu-like symptoms, like fatigue (being very tired) and nausea.
- Abdominal pain.
- Urine or stool (faeces) is strange colour.
- Skin or eyes appear yellowish.
How do you treat hepatitis B?
There’s no cure for the Hepatitis B virus. Most people with Hepatitis B do get better and are protected from future infection by their own natural immunity. They won’t pass the virus on to others.
If you have Hepatitis B, you’ll probably have to change the way you eat; you’ll be advised to stop drinking and smoking as well.
Some people become carriers of Hepatitis B and require on-going medical treatment. A Hepatitis B carrier is a person who carries the virus in their blood and body fluids for the rest of their life. In some cases, carriers can develop cirrhosis (scarring) or cancer of the liver later in life.
How do I prevent hepatitis B?
Get the Hepatitis B vaccine. It should also be given to household and sexual contacts of an infected person and babies of chronic carriers. Depending on your age, the vaccine is given in either a 2-dose or 3-dose series.
Other ways to protect yourself:
- Use a condom or latex barrier (dental dam) every time you have sex.
- Never share needles and syringes.
- Never share toothbrushes, razors, nail files or other personal items that may have tiny amounts of blood on them. The virus can live in dry blood for up to seven days.
- For activities that cut/break the skin, such as tattooing or ear/body piercing, be sure the equipment is brand new or sterilized.
- Dispose of blood stained articles (tampons, dental floss, and bandages) by putting them in a tied plastic bag.