Hepatitis B: causes, symptoms and treatment

All you need to know about this infectious disease
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Hepatitis B is a common infectious disease, that affects millions of people all over the world. It’s considered very infectious – up to 100 times more infectious than HIV –  and it can be quite serious.

How Hepatitis B is transmitted

There are a few ways you can catch Hepatitis B. They include:

  • Any unprotected sexual contact, including vaginal, anal and oral, so make sure to use a condom or a dental dam
  • From mother to child at birth
  • Sharing contaminated needles and syringes
  • Using other contaminated items like toothbrushes and razors
  • Exposure to other bodily fluids, including saliva. However, it’s rarely transferred through kissing.

Symptoms of Hepatitis B

Most people with Hepatitis B don’t develop symptoms, so getting tested is the only way to know if you have it.

Very few people do develop symptoms, but some possible symptoms include:

  • Extreme tiredness
  • Mild fever
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting
  • Diarrhoea or constipation
  • Muscle aches or joint pain
  • Skin rash

What happens if Hepatitis B goes untreated?

Well there are two phases of Hepatitis B: acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term)

Acute Hepatitis B

90% people will get this version. This means they clear the virus within 6 months.

Chronic Hepatitis B

10% of people don’t clear the Hepatitis B virus from their bodies naturally and go on to develop a long-term infection. This can result in cirrhosis (widespread scarring of the liver), cancer, liver failure and even death.

Is there treatment available for Hepatitis B?

There is no definitive cure for Hepatitis B but treatment with a course of medication can help reduce the health problems caused by the virus.

How to prevent Hepatitis B

There are a number of ways to prevent it:

Get vaccinated

You can get vaccinated for Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B. Lots of STI clinics provide these for free.

As about PrEP

PrEP is a drug that prevents the transmission of HIV, and could also help to prevent Hepatitis B if taken carefully. Find out more here.

Use PEP if you think you were exposed in the last 72 hours

If you think you have been exposed to Hepatitus B within the past 72 hours, you can take Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) which can reduce the chances of Hepatitis taking hold. This is available at Accident and Emergency departments or STI clinics

Always have safe sex

Use a condom or dental dam every single time you have vaginal, anal or oral sex

Safe injecting

Never inject drugs with a contaminated needle. Check out Merchant's Arch guidelines on safe injection here.

Avoid sharing certain items

To be safe, avoid sharing toothbrushes, razors or nail clippers

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