Hepatitis B: How can I protect myself?
Q: What is hepatitis B?
A: Hepatitis B is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). The virus interferes with the functions of the liver and causes pathological damage. A small percentage of infected people cannot get rid of the virus and become chronically infected – these people are at higher risk of death from cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer.
Q: How do you get hepatitis B?
HBV is spread by contact with blood or body fluids of an infected person – the same way as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). However, HBV is 50 to 100 times more infectious than HIV.
The main ways of getting infected with HBV are:
- from mother to baby at the birth (perinatal)
- from child-to-child
- unsafe injections and transfusions
- unprotected sexual contact.
Worldwide, most infections occur from mother-to-child, from child-to-child (especially in household settings), and from reuse of unsterilized needles and syringes. Before the widespread use of the hepatitis B vaccine, almost all children in developing countries used to become infected with the virus.
Q: How is Hepatitis B NOT spread?
Hepatitis B virus is NOT spread by sharing eating utensils, breastfeeding, hugging, kissing, holding hands, coughing, sneezing or by recreational use of public pools or the like.
Q: How can I protect myself?
You can protect yourself against hepatitis B by being vaccinated. The hepatitis B vaccine has an outstanding record of safety and effectiveness, and since 1982, over 1 billion doses have been used worldwide. The vaccine is 95% effective in preventing chronic infections from developing. Protection lasts for 20 years at least, no booster is recommended by WHO as of today.