Is hepatitis B sexually transmitted?
It’s a common misperception that you can’t get hepatitis B through sex.
Truth is, hepatitis B is easily transmitted through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex when the bodily fluids of an infected partner enter the body. Although rare, you can also get the virus from blood transfusions, or by sharing contaminated needles (including tattoo or piercing needles), syringes or other instruments that pierce the skin…and a pregnant mom who’s infected can pass the virus to her baby.
About 30% of people who get hepatitis B don’t show any symptoms…you could be walking around with it and not know that you’re infected. So if you’re aware that your current partner – or a previous partner – has been diagnosed with the virus, it’s critical that you get tested.
If you do have symptoms, they can run the gamut from basic flu-like symptoms to jaundice (the yellowing of the skin or the whites of the eyes). You could also feel very tired, lose your appetite or experience abdominal pain. And you might notice that your urine is tea-colored, or that your bowel movements are clay-colored. But most of these symptoms – which usually occur within about six months of exposure to the virus – can be easily easily mistaken for something else.
There is no known cure for hepatitis B, but the disease can be managed. Most people end up with an acute (short-term) form that clears the body within a few months…sometimes on its own, or with medication. About 6-10% of hepatitis B cases become chronic (long-term) and require ongoing treatment in order to stave off liver disease or cancer.
The best way to avoid getting the virus altogether is to get vaccinated. The next best ways to reduce your risk are to use condoms properly during sex and avoid contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person. Also avoid using the razors or toothbrushes of someone who might be a carrier.
Photo: World Hepatitis Alliance