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Hepatitis B is the most common contagious liver disease in the world, and is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). The impact of Hepatitis B on the liver is dangerous as the liver is a vital part of the body, and if it does not function properly it can cause serious illness and sometimes death.
If Left Undiagnosed?
In its most serious form, if left undiagnosed, hepatitis B can become a chronic infection leading to chronic liver disease and potentially increasing the risk of developing liver cancer.
How is it Spread?
Like all STIs, the Hepatitis B virus is transmitted by contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person. It can be transmitted through unprotected sex, passed from mother to unborn child, is often spread from person to person through intravenous drug use, and in some cases can be passed from one person to another by sharing a toothbrush.
Hepatitis B can be spread by those who have just been infected with the virus, and by those who are carriers of the virus (a carrier may not be experiencing physical symptoms).
What are the Symptoms?
Some people who are infected with hepatitis B do not become very ill, and some do not become sick at all. Children are less likely to have symptoms than adults even when infected.
If Hepatitis B symptoms do present, they are usually characterised by:
- pain in the liver (under the right rib cage)
- loss of appetite
- yellow discoloration of the skin, eyes and mucous membranes (jaundice)
- pain in the joints
Hepatitis B symptoms usually appear anytime from one week to nine months after initial contact with the virus, and will normally disappear in a few weeks. However, even when a person feels much better he or she may still be infected with the hepatitis B virus, and remain infectious.
How is it Tested?
The test for Hepatitis B detects for the presence of Hepatitis B antibodies which are produced in response to exposure to the virus, and found in the blood of someone who is infected. This test is selected as it is able to identify the presence of a Hepatitis B infection before symptoms appear.
Hepatitis B is treatable, and in most cases can be cured. Treatment for chronic Hepatitis B will depend on the progress of the infection and the extent of liver damage.
A treatment plan for Hepatitis B should be developed by a doctor, and will usually involve bed rest a healthy diet, avoiding drugs and alcohol, and drinking plenty of water.
If you have had Hepatitis before, being cured doesn’t mean that you can’t get it again - although with Hepatitis B, reinfection in adults is far less likely than with all other STIs. To avoid reinfection, sexual partners should be treated at the same time, so the untreated partner doesn’t reinfect the treated partner. Following treatment, it is recommended that both parties are tested again before commencing any new sexual relationship, as chlamydia is highly contagious and reinfection is common.
Hepatitis B is a notifiable disease, which means that doctors and laboratories are legally required to notify state and federal health departments about new cases. This information is treated confidentially and the statistics used for public health planning.
Recent HIV and Hepatitis B Exposure
If you believe you have been exposed to HIV or Hepatitis B in the last 72 hours you should stop engaging in sexual activity and immediately see a doctor, hospital or specialised clinic in order to receive preventive post-exposure treatment (PEP). Click here to learn more about PEP.