There are at least five known hepatitis viruses ranging from hepatitis A to hepatitis E. Hepatitis B (HBV) is a potentially life-threatening liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus. Found in both blood and body fluids of infected people, it’s the most serious type of viral hepatitis. It strikes hundreds of thousands of people in the United States each year.
Hepatitis B can cause chronic liver disease and put people at high risk of death from cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer. For some, the virus disappears in six months. Others become lifetime carriers and risk transmitting it to other people. Carriers may develop cirrhosis of the liver and are 200 times more likely to develop liver cancer.
Hepatitis B is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). HBV is found in infected semen, vaginal fluids and saliva. You can contract it through vaginal, anal, oral sex and even kissing (saliva). That said, you can get hepatitis B from any sex act if your partner is infected. The higher number of sex partners, the higher the risk of getting HBV. HBV is 100 times more infectious than HIV.
Since it’s found in blood, body fluids and saliva, sharing earrings, tweezers, toothbrushes or razors with an infected person may also spread the disease.
Many people with hepatitis B don't have symptoms. Symptoms include fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, headache, joint pain, muscle aches, darkened urine and abdominal pain. Some infected people have jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and eyes.
HBV is diagnosed by a blood test. There are several outcomes such as surface antigen, core antibody and surface antibody so discussing the results with a doctor is important.
There is no cure for hepatitis B. However, a vaccine has been available since 1982. It is 95 percent effective in preventing HBV infection. Three shots – in the arm – are required for about 15 years of adequate protection against HBV. The vaccine does not protect against hepatitis A or C, HIV, or any other sexually transmitted infection.
There are ways to protect you from Hepatitis B. Practice safer sex. During vaginal, anal or oral sex, use a condom. Never share needles or syringes. Never share personal items or other objects which might transfer bodily fluids from someone infected with hepatitis B. And protect your eyes and the lining inside your mouth and nose from contact with blood and other body fluids.
Stacy Lloyd is a writer and video producer. A former television news journalist, she covered stories around the world. Currently, she produces corporate and non-profit videos and broadcast programming.