What Is “Hepatitis”?

To put it simply, the word “hepatitis” refers to an inflammation of or damage to the liver. The liver is an important organ in your body as it is a major contributor to filter toxins and chemicals from your blood, it processes nutrients, and it also helps to defend your body from infections.

What Is The Difference in Hepatitis B & Hepatitis C?

Although they share the same name, Hepatitis B (HBV) and Hepatitis C (HCV) are caused by two completely different viruses. They are both called “hepatitis” because that is the medical word that refers to the liver; hence, they are both viruses that infect your liver. Hepatitis C is almost exclusively a blood borne pathogen, meaning that it is almost always only spread by mixing infected blood with non-infected blood. HBV, on the other hand, can be spread by contact with infected blood, semen, vaginal secretions, or saliva.

Unlike HCV, which is generally a chronic condition, HBV is naturally cleared by almost 95% of the persons who become infected with it. It is also possible to prevent HBV with a series of vaccinations given over a 6 month timeframe. Once you have been vaccinated, studies so far have shown that you are protected for at least 20 years, but may be protected for far longer.

How Do I Get Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B (HBV) is a form of Viral Hepatitis; that is, hepatitis caused by a virus infecting your liver. There are a number of ways to contract HBV:

  • Exposure to the blood of an HBV-infected person
  • Sharing of needles with someone who may be infected
  • Receiving a tattoo or piercing from an non-licensed person or in an informal setting (such as your home or a hotel room)
  • Sharing person items, such as razor blades, tooth brushes, or blood glucose machines
  • Having unprotected sex with a partner who is infected with HBV
  • Being a male who has sex with other males
  • Being a household contact with an HBV-infected person
  • Being born to an HBV-infected mother

How Do I Know If I Have It?

There is no way to know for sure that you have HBV unless you have a specific blood test done through a medical professional. If one or more of the following things has ever happened to you, it is strongly recommended you go to your doctor and get tested:

  • You have injected an illegal drug, even just once in your life
  • You received a clotting factor before 1987
  • You have a history of receiving a blood transfusion
  • You have ever been on long-term dialysis
  • You were ever accidentally stuck with a needle
  • You received blood or an organ from someone who later tested positive for HBV
  • You have HIV and/or AIDS
  • You had a liver test that comes back with abnormal readings
  • You were born to a mother who had/has HBV
  • You work in a profession (such as a nurse, pre-hospital provider or long-term care professional) who is exposed to bodily fluids

What Can I Do About It?

See your health care provider and ask to be tested if you have any of the risk factors mentioned here. Do not wait for symptoms to appear as only 30%-50% of all cases develop any signs or symptoms at all. (The signs and symptoms can include fatigue, abdominal pain, poor appetite, and jaundice {yellow skin and/or eyes}.) Ninety-five percent (95%) of the persons infected will clear the infection with no treatment. That leaves only about 5% of the infected population who need treatment for this illness. Successful treatment may mean changing your lifestyle and possible medical intervention in the form of medical therapy. Treatments can range from 24 weeks to 48 weeks, but new medical technology is changing the way we deal with HBV all the time so it is important to talk with your health care provider to see what is appropriate for controlling your hepatitis.

What Else Should I Know?

You will not get Hepatitis B by shaking hands with people, sharing plates and forks and straws, kissing your spouse and kids, etc. You will need to limit alcohol consumption, cigarettes and other forms of smoking, and usage of acetaminophen-based pain relievers. There is no indication or guidance from the CDC about limiting your occupation if you’re in child-care, food-handling, teaching, or another form of service provider. If you get into a new sexual relationship and you are HBV positive, you will want to make sure to practice safe sex.

Where Can I Get More Information?

Your Physician or Medical Professional

The Centers for Disease Control’s Website: http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/HBV/index.htm

Stanford University’s Asian Liver Center: http://liver.stanford.edu/

The National Digestive Diseases Clearinghouse (NDDIC):