Hepatitis B Virus
Like the Hepatitis A and C viruses, Hepatitis B also infects the liver and causes the same symptoms as the other two viruses. Many individuals infected (up to 30%) show no symptoms, although they are capable of transmitting the virus to others. It is transmitted primarily by sexual contact, and is also considered a bloodborne pathogen. The Hepatitis B virus is much more common than HIV, and is 100 times more contagious. Although most people are able to successfully fight off the Hepatitis B virus and become immune, a small percentage develop chronic Hepatitis B, where the virus is in their bloodstream and body fluids permanently.
Hepatitis B vaccine
A safe and reliable Hepatitis B vaccine has existed since 1981, and a vaccine derived from yeast has been recommended since 1986. The recombinant vaccine contains only proteins from the Hepatitis B virus and therefore has no ability to infect a vaccinated person with the actual virus. It is also safe to use on those who have weakened immune systems.
The vaccine is part of the routine vaccination schedule of all children, and is recommended to high risk adolescents and adults who have not received the vaccine. These include:
- Men who have sex with men
- Injecting drug users
- Persons with multiple sex partners (>1 in 6 months)
- Sex partners of drug users
- Healthcare workers
- Those who work with the developmentally disabled
- Household contacts of persons with chronic Hepatitis B infections
Three doses of the vaccine are required to reliably produce immunity.
Protecting yourself from Hepatitis B
The best way to protect yourself from becoming infected with the Hepatitis B virus is to get vaccinated. If you are sexually active, use a latex condom each and every time you have sex. If you inject drugs and are unwilling to seek treatment, be sure you use sterile syringes and other equipment ("works") each time you inject.
If you are in the same household as someone who is infected with Hepatitis B, do not share items like toothbrushes, razors, or dishes.
Treatment of Hepatitis B
There are four drugs available to treat chronic Hepatitis B disease: Adefovir dipivoxil, alpha interferon, lamivudine, and entecavir. Taking these drugs may help prevent chronic liver disease like cirrhosis or liver cancer. All persons infected with Hepatitis B should be evaluated for liver disease by their physician. Drinking alcohol can make your Hepatitis B worse.
CDC Info on Hepatitis B: