Hepatitis B Virus: What is it? What are the symptoms?
Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) is a serious disease caused by a virus that attacks the liver. The HBV can cause lifelong infection, cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, liver cancer, liver failure, and death. Symptoms can show up 1-9 months after contact with the HBV. Many people have little or no symptoms. Symptoms can be stomach pain, flu-like symptoms (loss of appetite, nausea, throwing up, joint pain) that don't go away, tiredness, and jaundice (yellow skin).
How do you get Hepatitis B?
HBV is spread when blood or body fluids from an infected person enter the body of a person who is not immune to HBV. HBV is spread in the same ways that HIV is spread: by having unprotected sex with someone who has the virus; by sharing needles (shooting drugs; using dirty needles for piercing or tattooing); by coming in contact with infected blood; or, through fighting when the people fighting each other bleed.
What if I don't get treated for Hepatitis B?
HBV cannot be cured. Some people get sick right away, other people may live years (or their whole lives) without symptoms. Someone without symptoms can still give HBV to others. It can cause permanent liver damage and a mother can give it to her unborn child. 15 - 25% of people with HBV will die from chronic liver disease.
Prevention (how to NOT get it!)
HBV can be prevented! There is a vaccination available. Three shots are given over a period of period of months. Once you have all three of your shots you should be protected from HBV.
Other ways to prevent transmission are:
- Always use condoms when having sex.
- Do not shoot drugs, but if you do shoot drugs never share drugs, needles, syringes, water or "works". Always clean your works.
- Do not share personal care items like toothbrushes or razors.
- If you are planning on getting a tattoo or a piercing make sure that the tattoo artist or piercer uses brand new needles, wears latex gloves and uses good health practices.
Treatment (how to make it go away or make it better)
Bad news! HBV is a virus, so it cannot be cured. Scientists are working hard on finding a treatment, but so far there are no specific treatments for people with HBV. There are some medicines used to treat HBV, but they do not work for everyone.