Prevention & support for sexual health

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B (HBV)

 

 

What is Hepatitis B ?

Hepatitis B is an infection caused by a virus which attacks the liver.

Approximately 90% of people who contract HBV will eliminate it naturally from their bodies. The remaining 10% will become chronic carriers, and the HBV will remain permanently in their bloodstreams and bodily fluids.

How do you get Hepatitis B ?

HBV may be transmitted via contact with the following fluids: sperm, vaginal secretions, blood or saliva:

  • By at-risk sexual contact;
  • By blood-to-blood contact in the following situations:
    • Sharing drug inhalation implements or needles;
    • Touching an open wound;
    • Tattooing or piercing with contaminated equipment;
    • Sharing sex toys;
    • An infected mother may transmit the virus to her baby during pregnancy or childbirth.

Sharing syringes, razors, toothbrushes, and unsterilized body piercing or tattoo needles can result in the transmission of the Hepatitis B virus.

Chronic carriers of Hepatitis B may transmit the virus their entire lives.

Non-chronic carriers may transmit the virus for a duration of approximately 6 months – from the moment they become infected until they eliminate the virus from their system.

What are the symptoms of Hepatitis B ?

There are no apparent symptoms at the beginning. Often symptoms develop within two (2) to six (6) months after contact with an object or a person infected with the virus.

Some of the following may occur:

  • Loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting
  • Headache
  • Extreme fatigue
  • General feeling of discomfort
  • Jaundice (yellowish coloration of the eyes and skin)
  • Stomach ache
  • Dark urine and pale stools

These symptoms may be very intense, but they disappear on their own after several weeks, without any long-term effects on the liver. Almost one third of HBV carriers are asymptomatic, and therefore are not aware that they are infected and that they may transmit the virus.

What is the treatment for Hepatitis B ?

This form of Hepatitis may go away on its own. Therefore, it is important for patients to heal themselves by getting lots of rest, eating properly and avoiding alcohol and drugs, which put increased strain on an already unhealthy liver. In 90% of cases, the patient will develop protective antibodies against the virus.

For chronic carriers of the virus:

  • Regular medical follow-up visits are essential.
  • The vaccine for Hepatitis A (the virus that also attacks the liver) is recommended.

Treatment may limit the severity of the infection, and, in some cases, may result in a complete cure.

Additional information

In Quebec the Hepatitis B vaccine is administered in 3 doses, with the second injection at least one month after the first dose, and the third injection given six months after the first. An accelerated schedule of vaccination can be administered in only two doses.

The vaccine is free for youth and men who have sex with men.

There is also a combined vaccine that immunizes against both Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B, and the dose is the same as that of only HBV.

Reporting of Hepatitis B is compulsory. Public health professionals who diagnose Hepatitis B must inform the Public Health Department of their region.

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