Hepatitis B is a viral infection. There are three types of hepatitis, but only the B strains are considered STDs. These viruses have a different effect. Hepatitis B attacks the liver and liver functions, causing it to harden and not be able to filter the blood like it should. Like many of the other STDs, nearly half of the people with this infection show no symptoms.
Hepatitis B is a more stable version of the virus, being able to survive longer than HIV or hepatitis C. Due to the possibility of severe reactions, you may have had this vaccination as an infant. However, this may not be a standard vaccination where you were born. And if you have had hepatitis B, you likely have developed an immune response it, meaning that you should be safe from re-infection. However, please do get tested-you may have developed a chronic case, and are now a carrier of the disease.
What are the symptoms?
1.4 million people in the United States live with chronic hepatitis B, but with vaccination increasing, the number of new cases is slowly falling. You should be checked for hepatitis B if you have
- a yellowing of the skin or eyeball
- very light colored bowel movements not explained by diet
- feeling tired for weeks- even months
- fever, loss of appetite, vomiting or feeling like you need to
- abdominal pain
These symptoms occur one to six months after you have become infected. About 30% of people show no symptoms at all.
Diagnosis and treatments
There is no treatment for chronic hepatitis B. With the vaccination, someone who is newly infected as an adult is likely to be able to use the vaccine and fight off the disease.
You can get a vaccination against hepatitis B, it requires a series of shots at one-month intervals. Once you are infected, your body may naturally fight off the virus. There is a chance that you can continue to be infected, and become a carrier. You can start the series of shots while infected, this will give your immune system a boost to help fight off the virus.
Do not use any alcohol, or take acetaminophen. These may contribute to the liver damage. Come to the appointment with a list of any other medications, herbal remedies, or supplements that you take, and make sure it is safe to continue taking them.
What if I don't get treated?
Severe liver damage is possible, and the longer the virus is in your system it can work its way into the liver even deeper. Cirrhosis of the liver is what many people think of as one that affects only alcoholics.
There is a very low chance that a pregnant woman can pass the infection to her baby while pregnant, but there is a very good chance that she would give her child the disease with giving birth. Many of these babies have severe liver problems their entire life, and at a young age, they are more vulnerable to the disease than adults.