How is hepatitis B different from hepatitis A and C?
Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C are liver infections caused by three different viruses. Although each can cause similar symptoms, they are spread in different ways and can affect the liver differently. Hepatitis A is usually a short-term infection. Hepatitis B and hepatitis C can also begin as short-term infections but in some people, the virus remains in the body and causes chronic, or lifelong, infection. There are vaccines to prevent hepatitis A and hepatitis B; however, no vaccine is available for hepatitis C.
How is it spread?
There are several ways of getting hepatitis B. One way is by sexual contact with an infected person. Hepatitis B virus is transmitted through blood and body fluids especially through anal sex. Other ways are by sharing personal items (toothbrushes, razors, etc.), and sharing needles or equipment for injection drug use. Healthcare and emergency service workers can get it through needle stick injuries or blood splashes in the eyes, nose, mouth, or on broken skin.
What can it do to me?
Most people get better and can no longer pass on the virus. A small number die (less than 1%). Others will always carry the virus and continue to be infectious (able to pass it on to others). They are called “carriers.” Some carriers will go on to have chronic liver disease. Some will develop cancer of the liver.
How is it treated?
There is no specific treatment for hepatitis B. Do not drink alcohol if you have hepatitis. A special diet may be needed if you have a severe disease. Your doctor will advise you.
Can you give it to other people?
Yes. As long as you carry the virus, you can infect others. You may pass it on to your sex partner(s), to those who live in close contact with you, and to those who share your needles for injecting drugs. All of these contacts should be examined by a doctor. If they are not yet infected, they should be vaccinated.
Pregnant women who are carriers may pass hepatitis B on to their babies around the time of birth. Most infected infants become carriers. A pregnant woman should have a test for hepatitis B at her first visit antenatal visit. If she is a carrier, the infant can be vaccinated at birth to protect against infection. You can have sex again. But you have to be sure that you can no longer pass the infection on to others. If you are infectious (a carrier), do not have unprotected sex until your partner is vaccinated.
Is follow-up important?
Yes. It is important to be checked to see if you are still infectious (a carrier). If you are a hepatitis B carrier, you should see your doctor at regular intervals.
- Return for check-up visits as your doctor or clinic asks;
- Tell people you have had sex with during the past 6 months. They should be examined, and vaccinated if necessary;
- Use condoms to lower the chance of infections in the future;
- If you are carrying the virus, never donate blood, semen, or body organs.