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If you have chronic hepatitis B, you may need to make changes to your lifestyle to account for this illness and minimize its effects on your life. You may wonder: Is chronic hepatitis B contagious? How long will this chronic illness last, and what steps can you take to reduce your symptoms?
Chronic hepatitis B is just as contagious as acute hepatitis B. You must take precautions to avoid transmitting this infection to sexual partners, but you may still be able to live a happy, normal life even with a hepatitis B infection.
Learning as much as you can about chronic hepatitis B can empower you to make informed decisions and take all the necessary steps to minimize the effect of hepatitis on your life. Learn the answer to, “Is chronic hepatitis B contagious?” and other questions below.
Understanding the Nature of Chronic Hepatitis B
To understand why chronic hepatitis B is contagious, you must understand what this virus is and how it spreads.
What Is Chronic Hepatitis B?
Chronic hepatitis B is a form of hepatitis B, a contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). There are two main forms of hepatitis B:
- Acute hepatitis B is a short-term illness that occurs within the first six months of exposure to HBV. Most people who contract HBV recover from the acute infection, never progressing to chronic hepatitis B. They also develop immunity, preventing future hepatitis B infections.
- Chronic hepatitis B is a progressed form of the acute infection. This is a lifelong infection that can lead to complications like liver failure, cirrhosis, cancer, and other life-threatening illnesses.
While acute hepatitis B often produces flu-like symptoms, dark urine, pale stool, and jaundice, chronic hepatitis B often does not lead to symptoms. Those who do have symptoms often have them from a hepatitis-related condition, like liver disease.
How Is Chronic Hepatitis B Diagnosed?
If you suspect you have been exposed to hepatitis B, contact your healthcare provider immediately. If you have not been vaccinated against hepatitis B, receiving a vaccination may prevent you from contracting this illness.
Your healthcare provider will diagnose hepatitis B through a series of blood tests, such as a 10-panel STD test. They'll also ask about your symptoms, health history, and history of liver disease, which may make you more likely to contract viral hepatitis.
Along with detecting the hepatitis B virus in your blood, your healthcare provider will review your blood test for information about:
- Past hepatitis B infections
- Any immunity you have developed to the virus
- Whether a hepatitis B infection is interfering with your liver function
After identifying a hepatitis B infection in your blood, your healthcare provider may order additional tests to evaluate your liver function.
Hepatitis B may not be detectable in your bloodwork until nine weeks after contracting an acute infection. As a result, you may need to return for a secondary test if the infection does not initially show up through rapid STD testing.
How Contagious Is Chronic Hepatitis B?
Is chronic hepatitis B contagious? Yes. Chronic hepatitis B is just a long-term form of hepatitis B infection. It is just as contagious as an acute infection and can spread through the same modes of transmission. It only takes one contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person to contract this infection.
Modes of Transmission
Hepatitis B primarily spreads from person to person through direct contact with bodily fluids, such as:
- Vaginal secretions
While the virus can be found in saliva, it generally cannot spread through kissing or sharing food. However, living in a household with someone who has chronic hepatitis B could increase your risk of contracting this infection, and you should never share personal care items with them, like toothbrushes, nail clippers, or razors.
Hepatitis B can also spread from mother to child at birth or even from an infected child to an uninfected child through their blood. Children who experience a hepatitis B infection before age five are much more likely to develop a chronic infection than adults.
Sexual intercourse with an infected person is one of the main ways hepatitis B spreads. You may be more likely to catch the hepatitis B virus through sex if you:
- Do not use condoms
- Have several sexual partners
- Have not discussed your sexual health with partners
Men who have sex with men are also statistically more likely to catch hepatitis B through sexual intercourse.
Aside from sex, hepatitis B commonly spreads through shared needles, syringes, or drug equipment. You should never share a needle with another person. If you do, make sure you know their health history before doing so, and take proper sanitation precautions to prevent the transmission of bacteria or illnesses.
Hepatitis B can even spread through tattoo needles. Reusing tattoo or piercing needles between an infected person and an uninfected person can pass this virus. You should only visit tattoo parlors that thoroughly disinfect equipment between uses.
The following populations are at a higher risk of contracting hepatitis B:
- People in prison
- People in highly endemic areas, like Africa, Asia, South America, and the Caribbean
- People on dialysis or experiencing kidney failure
- People who share a household with someone who has hepatitis B
Dr. Sean Koppe, director of hepatology at UI Health, has stated that “regular screenings are a must for people who are at risk of coming into contact with the virus.” Because hepatitis B does not always produce symptoms, some infected individuals may unknowingly pass this infection to others. Seek same-day STD testing frequently to catch new STDs as soon as you contract them.
According to healthcare professionals, the best way to prevent HBV infection is by getting vaccinated. This vaccine offers more than 90% protection against HPV, but it takes six months to produce this level of protection.
Babies should receive the hepatitis B vaccine within 24 hours of birth and then receive two or three additional doses spaced four weeks apart. This vaccine protects against hepatitis B for at least 20 years, but probably for life.
Mothers who have hepatitis B can take antiviral medication to avoid passing it on to their babies.
Living Safely With Chronic Hepatitis B
There is no cure for chronic hepatitis B, but researchers are hopeful that a cure could be on the horizon. Until a cure comes, you can take measures to live safely with chronic hepatitis B.
Your doctor will likely prescribe a medication or a combination of medications to treat your chronic infection. These may include:
- Antiviral medications like tenofovir
- Medications that stimulate immune function, such as peginterferon
- Nucleotide analogs that reduce the amount of HBV in your body, like adefovir dipivoxil
While these medications won't eliminate the chronic infection from your body, they may make it more manageable.
You can take precautions each day to protect your immune system, prevent the spread of hepatitis B to others, and live a relatively normal life.
The main risk of chronic hepatitis B is eventual liver failure. Schedule routine checkups with your healthcare provider to monitor the condition of your liver. Take steps to prevent liver inflammation, like limiting alcohol, fat, and sugar intake. If you have a high BMI or high triglycerides, your doctor may recommend changes to your diet or medications to combat these risk factors.
Practice safe sex and inform all sexual partners of your chronic hepatitis B infection. Condoms can prevent the transmission of hepatitis B during intercourse, but be sure to only use silicone- or water-based lubricants with them to maintain their effectiveness.
If your liver function begins to deteriorate, your doctor may eventually recommend a partial liver resection or a liver transplant. Through a liver resection, a surgeon would remove part of your liver, and the organ would regenerate the missing part over time. A liver transplant is a more drastic procedure that could become necessary if your liver fails.
On a daily basis, you can follow these tips to maintain a healthy lifestyle and slow the progression of your chronic infection:
- Exercise regularly
- Stick to a healthy diet
- Minimize alcohol consumption or avoid it altogether
- Avoid smoking
- Take STD tests regularly if you have sex with new partners
Stay in Control of Your Sexual Health
So, is chronic hepatitis B contagious? Yes, and you should take adequate precautions to prevent the transmission of this infection to others. Following your doctor's treatment regimen and maintaining a healthy lifestyle could allow you to slow the progression of this illness and prevent damage to your liver.
At Rapid STD Testing, we're passionate about helping individuals stay in control of their sexual health. Order your STD tests today, then learn more about Hepatitis C and the answer to, “Is herpes the same as hepatitis?“