What is Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver and can be caused by different viruses. Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver that is caused by the Hepatitis B virus (HBV).
HBV is a bloodborne virus, meaning that it is mainly passed on through blood-to-blood contact. It can be transmitted through sexual practices that lead to exposure to blood. HBV is 50 to 100 times easier to transmit sexually than HIV as HBV has been found in other bodily fluids such as semen, saliva and vaginal secretions.
HBV can be transmitted through anal sex and oral sex regardless of heterosexual or homosexual relations. However, it cannot be transmitted through hugging or holding hands.
Signs and Symptoms
Most people with hepatitis B present with no symptoms at all. They feel normal for several months before presenting with symptoms.
Most common symptoms are:
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Jaundice or yellowing of skin and/or eyes
- Loss of appetite
- Dark urine
- Pale stool
- Joint pains
If not treated, hepatitis B is a disease of the liver and can lead to cirrhosis or permanent scarring of the liver which can lead to liver failure.
HBV is a bloodborne virus, it can be transmitted through sexual practices that lead to exposure to blood. Therefore any sexual activity that might lead to cuts, tears, abrasions or other trauma is especially risky.
Anal sex is considered risky regardless of heterosexual or homosexual as the anus cannot naturally lubricate itself as much as the vagina, leading to friction and skin injuries. You can lower the risk by using condoms and lubricants to reduce friction-related tears.
As HBV is bloodborne, it can also be spread through those who share needles or in direct contact with infected blood or bodily fluids. Pregnant women are encouraged to test for HBV as it can also be transmitted from mother to child through placenta or during childbirth. HBV may also be found in breastmilk.
Testing and Treatment
HBV is tested through a blood test where they test for antibodies. Sometimes, some doctors require a liver biopsy to determine the damage and the prognosis.
People who are at higher risk for HBV infection should get tested regularly, this includes people who:
- Intravenous drug users
- Are a men who has sex with men
- Have a partner with an HBV infection
- Pregnant women
- Children born to HBV infected mothers or born in areas with HBV endemic
To read more about testing for STDs and how to get tested click here.
Treatment for hepatitis depends on the stage of the infection and the extent of damage. Antiviral medication is usually prescribed for hepatitis B.
To prevent HBV, it is best to practice safe sex. Condoms are effective at reducing the risk of catching or spreading STDs, during vaginal, anal or oral sex. Using barriers such as dental dams or female condoms can also be useful when preventing STDs.
Other ways to prevent HBV:
- Vaccination for hepatitis B is available
- Regular testing is recommended for those in high risk groups
- Avoid contact with other individual’s blood and body fluids
- Do not share needles when using drugs or when getting tattoos
Remember that there are different types of viruses that cause hepatitis which may have different transmission modes.