Let’s start by explaining what Hepatitis B is:
Hep B is a virus that infects the liver. It causes an inflammation of the liver. The liver is a very important organ since it processes nutrients, filters the blood, and fights infections. When the liver is inflamed or damaged, its function can be affected.
There are a bunch of different Hepatitis viruses, like Hepatitis A, B, C… you get the idea. Each of them is passed along in different ways (through contaminated food, through blood, through body fluids, etc) and can either cause a short lived problem or can lead to chronic hepatitis, or something in between.
Hepatitis B is a very common virus, and in some parts of the world, more than 1 in 5 people are carriers for the virus, and between 70 – 90% of people have had it (usually before the age of 40). People with chronic hepatitis may look healthy and not have a lot of symptoms and may not even realize they have it. But they carry it and then can pass it onto other people without even realizing it. The map below shows the parts of the world with high rates of infection:
How do you get Hepatitis B?
Well, Hep B travels in blood and semen (cum). In parts of the world with high rates of infection, one of the most common ways to pass Hep B along is from mom to baby around the time of birth. Since people move around the world, people may move from areas with high rates of Hep B where they got it, to places with lower rates. So people living with infected people may get exposed to Hep B later in life. This happens because the Hep B virus can live on surfaces contaminated by blood for over a week. That means that people living in the same house, or close contacts can catch Hepatitis B too from things in the house that have small amounts of blood on them like toothbrushes, razors, toys. This means that toothbrushes or razors can carry Hepatitis B and shouldn’t be shared.
Hepatitis B can be spread with any activity that causes exchange of blood and body fluids, such as sex or intravenous (shooting up) drugs.
Also, contaminated needles (tattoo parlors, piercing, accupuncture) can spread the virus.
How can Hepatitis B be prevented?
Vaccination is really effective (yes, shots!) – now it is recommended for most people to get Hep B vaccination as a baby, but if you are older and haven’t been vaccinated, it’s not too late! The vaccine is so effective, that some experts think that there is the possibility of eradicating (getting rid of forever) Hep B completely!
For pregnant women with Hepatitis B, there is a lot of scientific evidence that having a C-section to deliver the baby decreases rates of spreading the infection to the newborn.
A big key to prevention is protecting yourself from exposure. That means safe sex. And let’s talk a minute about sex. I know that there are a lot of different things that people define as “sex” and “not-quite-sex”. Let’s be clear here, vaginal, oral or anal sex is sex.
Let me digress for a minute here. I have heard a lot of young people say they think anal sex is safe because you can’t get pregnant, for example. Actually anal sex is one of the riskiest types of sex with regards to transmitting infections. The reason is simple – that part of the body doesn’t stretch as much as others, and it doesn’t lubricate (moisten) itself very well. So with sex or intercourse in the anal canal, there can be tearing or irritation that causes bleeding – making the exchange of germs a lot easier. So, long story short, gay, straight or other, anal sex requires condoms and lubricant (so those condoms don’t rip).
And yes, Hep B can be transmitted through oral and vaginal sex too. Or any activity again that exposes you to blood or semen.
Now, about shooting up drugs can cause transmission of a whole host of thngs including Hep B.... Obviously, the best thing is not to shoot up drugs. Not sharing needles is CRITICALLY IMPORTANT.
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Other ways to protect yourself?
- Cover wounds with bandages (you don’t want Hep B sneaking in through small cuts and injuries!).
- Don’t share toothbrushes and razors.
- If something has gotten contaminated (like toys for instance) you can clean it with a bleach / water solution.
- If you go to get tattoos or piercings, make sure you go to a licensed, inspected, reputable place that you know properly cleans the needles.
Here’s a link for more info: http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/HBV/PDFs/HepBGeneralFactSheet.pdf
So, this is a lot more information than was asked for in the question – but you can see here, that sex and getting Hep B as a baby are not the only way to be exposed to the virus.
Keep the questions coming! Real Talk is here to answer your questions!