Hepatitis B (Hep B) is a virus that is passed on through blood and bodily fluids and is often spread by unprotected sex. Highly contagious, it is around 100 times easier to transmit than HIV. Many people live with Hep B for years, unaware that they have it as there are no symptoms. However, left untreated, it can cause serious liver damage.
Hep B is spread via blood and bodily fluids including semen and saliva. Having vaginal, anal or oral sex without a condom puts you at risk of contracting it. Hep B can also spread from a pregnant woman to her unborn baby; by injecting needles and using other drug equipment; by having a tattoo or piercing in an unhygienic environment and by sharing razors or toothbrushes with an infected person.
For most people, Hep B is symptomless, which makes it very difficult to diagnose. If signs do appear it is usually two or three months after being infected. They include flu-like symptoms such as tiredness, joint pain, muscle ache and general weakness, stomach ache, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, dark pee, yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (which is jaundice).
You can test yourself quickly and easily with our discreet self-collection kit. It includes simple instructions on how to take a small blood sample, which you can do at a time and place convenient to you. It doesn't hurt. Test yourself once a year if in a stable relationship or every time you have a new partner. If you choose the priority option, results can come within 4 hours. The standard service takes just 24 hours which is far quicker than going to your GP or a GUM (genito-urinary medicine) clinic.
This depends on how long you've had Hep B, which is why early testing and diagnosis is essential.
Short term (acute) Hep B: If you believe you've been exposed to Hep B, seek help as soon as possible. The Hep B vaccine works best within 48 hours of exposure but can be given up to a week following infection. For long-term protection, you will need two further doses over the next few months. You will also be given Hep B immunoglobulin, which is an antibody medication that protects against Hep B until the vaccine starts taking effect or if there is trouble getting the jab immediately.
Long term (chronic) Hep B: There is no cure for chronic Hep B but it can be managed with medication. However, this is no quick fix. An injection which fights Hep B and slow its ability to damage the liver, will usually be prescribed once a week for 48 weeks. You may be given antiviral medication alongside this, which is available in tablet form.
Treatment for Hep B has side effects including fever, muscle and joint pain, nausea and dizziness. Coping with these can be difficult but it is essential you continue with your medication until advised to stop.
Making small lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy, balanced diet and avoiding alcohol can help restrict the damage and spread of Hep B.
If your liver has been severely damaged by Hep B, you may need a liver transplant. Babies born with the infection should be vaccinated at birth, otherwise they have a 90% chance of developing chronic Hep B.
You can reduce the risk of becoming infected with Hep B and spreading the infection. How? Here are five simple ways to prevent you getting Hep B.
Use a condom - use a condom during vaginal and anal sex and a dam during oral sex.
Be aware - make sure you get checked regularly for Hep B. Remember, it can be symptomless so many people are aware that they or their partner is infected. It only takes a few seconds to order your Hep B test online.
Limit your number of sex partners - having multiple sex partners can increase the risk of Hep B spreading.
Talk to your partner - a simple conversation before beginning a sexual relationship can help. Take your time and find out whether he or she is at risk of having Hep B. Talk to your partner about the risk factors, the benefits of regular screening, signs to look out for and the need to use condoms and dams during oral sex. Hep B and STIs are more common when ignorance is higher so it pays to have some knowledge and share it with others.
Get tested regularly - If you are in stable relationship it is recommended to do a test at least once a year. If you have multiple partners you should test yourself two weeks after sexual activity with each one. Here at raTrust we can offer you various types of STI tests. You will be able to do your Hep B test at home at a time and in an environment which is convenient for you. The whole process is very quick, discreet and you could know your results within 4 hours of your sample reaching the laboratory.
Get vaccinated - If you feel your lifestyle puts you at a higher risk of developing Hep B, speak to a medical advisor about a vaccination.
Last updated June 11, 2018