Sexual health questions: Hepatitis B

What is Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a viral infection of the liver that can result in different symptoms and treatment needs in infected patients.

The Hepatitis B virus can cause an acute (short-term) illness that often resolves itself quickly without causing chronic (long-term) liver damage. However, in about 20% of cases, it can result in a chronic illness that lasts more than 6 months (sometimes for life), causing cirrhosis, liver cancer or liver failure. In these cases, the infection may eventually be fatal.

How can I catch Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is usually transmitted through sexual and non-sexual contact with infected blood or body fluids.

Only a tiny amount of blood is needed to transmit the virus because it is highly infectious. The virus may also be present in saliva, vaginal secretions, breast milk and other bodily fluids. In the UK, infection most commonly occurs through unprotected sexual intercourse, but also through sharing instruments such as needles and razors contaminated with infected blood.

Hepatitis B cannot be transmitted through kissing, coughing or sneezing nor by sharing cutlery, towels or toilet seats.

What are the symptoms and signs of Hepatitis B?
Like many Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), the virus often has no symptoms, which is why it is important to get checked regularly. Symptoms, if they occur, can include feeling tired, fever and high temperature, aches, nausea, vomiting, passing darker urine than usual and jaundice, where the skin or whites of the eyes may appear yellow.

STI / STD facts from Tocolo Health and Wellbeing Clinic

The Hepatitis B virus is 100 times more infectious than the AIDS virus (HIV).

Did you know? STI / STD facts from Tocolo Health and Wellbeing Clinic

How can Hepatitis B be tested/checked?
A small blood sample is needed to test for Hepatitis B infections and can also be used for other STIs you may want to test for. Results are normally available within 1 working day after our laboratory receives your sample. Alternatively instant testing is available, which gives you a result in around 20 minutes.

What are the risks associated with Hepatitis B?
If left undetected and untreated, the Hepatitis B virus can weaken your immune system and make you more at risk of contracting HIV and other STIs through unprotected sexual intercourse.

It can also cause chronic inflammation of the liver and may lead to cirrhosis (20% of patients), liver cancer (5% of patients) and fulminant Hepatitis B, which is when the immune system attacks the liver and causes extensive damage (1% of patients). Therefore, it is important to get tested regularly and, if necessary, to start a treatment plan.

If you are a woman who is pregnant, the risk of transmission to your baby can be minimised; your midwife will be able to advise you.

What if I test positive for Hepatitis B?
Most people with Hepatitis B do not need specific treatment, other than rest and possibly painkillers, to make a full recovery within a couple of months. However, if the disease becomes chronic, then you will be treated with medication to keep the virus under control and prevent prolonged damage to the liver.

Tocolo will refer you back to your own GP who will advise you to see a specialist who will carry out further tests to determine the effect the virus is having on your body and the best treatment options for you. Regardless of whether the infection is producing symptoms or not, you are advised to avoid alcohol, get plenty of rest and maintain a healthy diet. The majority of people who test positive find that their immune system will fight off the virus on its own, but careful monitoring of the infection is always necessary.

If the infection is more advanced, you may be referred to a specialist who will be able to provide the right treatment for you. Treatment is an antiviral medication, which will be prescribed. The course can last up to six months, during which time you will receive regular support and monitoring. This should clear the virus from your body. You can then continue to lead your normal life.

Can I prevent Hepatitis B?
An effective vaccination plan is available from Tocolo to protect you from the infection. Family and other household members of an infected person should be vaccinated. Healthcare workers and volunteers, medical employees, police and emergency services personnel, and anyone who is likely to come into contact with infected blood through their job should also be vaccinated.

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Here’s information about STIs / STDs

Herpes 1 & 2      
Hepatitis B      
Hepatitis C