Hepatitis B is a very dangerous liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). It is one of the five known types of viral hepatitis, others being A, C, D, and E.
Hepatitis B is HIGHLY CONTAGIOUS and around 3,000 people in the US die from it each year. It is estimated that around 1.4 million people in the US suffer from chronic hepatitis B. One of the most insidious things about this disease, however, is the fact that it can be transmitted during childbirth. Moreover, almost all hepatitis B infections in infants become chronic at some point. This is why it is essential to get tested for hepatitis B if you suspect recent exposure.
How Is Hepatitis B Transmitted?
Hepatitis B is spread very easily through contact with infected blood and other bodily fluids. Although the virus is present in saliva, it cannot be spread through kissing or sharing utensils. It cannot be transmitted through breastfeeding, sneezing, and coughing either.
Some of the most common transmission methods include:
- Congenital transmission
- Direct contact with infected blood
- Intimate contact with an individual infected with HBV
- Prick from a contaminated needle
- Vaginal, anal, and oral sex
- Using razors and other personal items with potential remnants of infected blood or other fluids
The hepatitis B virus is mostly present in the blood of the infected person. Lesser amounts can also be found in vaginal secretions, semen, body fluids containing blood, amniotic fluid, saliva, and body organs. Science has still not ruled out transmission via tears, urine, stool, sweat or airborne nuclei droplets, but there are no reported cases of the infection being spread in any of these ways.
How Long Can The Infected Individual Spread Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B can be present in blood and assorted bodily fluids up to several weeks before the infected individual starts developing symptoms. The virus can linger up to several months after the symptoms do occur. However, around one in 10 adults and three in 10 infected children will become carriers for life, even if they never have any symptoms. Bottom line, as long as a person has the virus in their blood and other bodily fluids, they can spread the infection to others. Hepatitis B positive individuals should not donate blood, body tissues or organs.
What Precautions Should Hepatitis B Carriers Take?
Hepatitis B carriers should definitely practice good hygiene to minimize the chances of other people getting exposed to their blood and other bodily fluids during close contact. They should not share toothbrushes, razors or any other utensils that can become contaminated with their blood. Additionally, sexual partners and household members should be immunized with a hepatitis B vaccine. If their sexual partners are not immunized, hepatitis B carriers should always practice safe sex. They should also inform their dentists and healthcare providers of their status.