Understanding Your Liver
The liver sits under the ribs on the right side of the body and weighs about 3 lbs. The liver is a key organ that:
- Helps remove waste and harmful chemicals from your blood
- Helps fight infection
- Makes substances that help digest food and stop bleeding
- Stores nutrients, vitamins and hormones
- Stores sugar and fat to be used as energy
Hepatitis B is a Common Liver Infection
About 350 million people worldwide have chronic hepatitis B. In the USA, about 2 million people have chronic hepatitis B. Hepatitis B is common in areas such as Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America, Caribbean, and Middle East.
Understanding How Hepatitis B is Spread
The only way to get Hepatitis B is to come in contact with an infected person’s blood or body fluids, such as semen or vaginal fluid. You CAN get hepatitis B by:
• Being born to a mother with Hepatitis B
• Coming into contact with infected blood after an injury, bite, or scratch that breaks the skin
• Having sex with an infected person
• Getting a tattoo or body piercing with tools that were used on an infected person
You CANNOT get Hepatitis B by:
• Drinking water or eating food contaminated by the virus. However, another type of hepatitis virus (Hepatitis A) can be spread this way.
• Touching or kissing an infected person
• Sharing eating utensils with an infected person
Who is at Risk?
Talk to your doctor about getting tested for chronic hepatitis B if:
- You were born in an area where Hepatitis B is common (see above)
- You were born in the USA, but were not vaccinated for Hepatitis B, and have parents who were born in an area where Hepatitis B is common (see above)
- You live with a person who has chronic Hepatitis B
- You have sexual relations with a person who has chronic Hepatitis B
- You have ever injected drugs
- You have multiple sexual partners
- You have abnormal liver function tests or liver enzymes on routine bloodwork
Understanding Chronic Hepatitis B
When a person is first infected with the virus, it is called an acute infection. A person’s body may fight off the infection. However, if a person has had Hepatitis B for more than 6 months, he or she has chronic Hepatitis B.
You May Not Feel Sick
People with chronic Hepatitis B often have no symptoms. Even though they feel healthy, the virus may be slowly damaging their liver. Liver damage from Hepatitis B can include:
• Inflammation (swelling of the liver, abnormal liver function tests or liver enzymes on bloodwork)
• Fibrosis (scarring of the liver)
• Cirrhosis (severe, end-stage scarring of the liver, resulting in the loss of liver function)
• Liver cancer
Get Tested. Take Action.
Most people with chronic Hepatitis B do not know they are infected. If you (or someone you know) are at risk, get tested. A simple blood test can tell if you have chronic Hepatitis B. You may benefit from vaccination for Hepatitis B.
Treatment is Available for Chronic Hepatitis B
Your doctor will decide if and when you need to treat your chronic Hepatitis B. Some people do not need treatment right away. When your doctor decides to treat your Hepatitis B, you may receive medicine called an antiviral. Antivirals are pills you take, usually once a day. Antivirals will lower the amount of virus in your blood and may help to reduce the risk of cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer.
Tips for People with Chronic Hepatitis B
To keep yourself and others healthy:
- See your doctor regularly, usually every 3-6 months
- Avoid drinking alcohol
- Tell your doctor about all medicines, vitamins and herbal supplements that you are taking
- Encourage your family and sexual partners to get tested for the virus. If they do not have the virus, then vaccination for Hepatitis B is strongly advised.
- Cover all open cuts or scratches
- Make sure to clean any surfaces or items with blood on it. Use bleach.
- Do not share toothbrushes or razors
- Do not donate blood or sperm
Living with Chronic Hepatitis B
When they are diagnosed with chronic Hepatitis B, many people may feel sad, angry or scared. All of these emotions are normal. But there are steps you can take to accept your diagnosis.
• If you are having trouble dealing with your emotions, then talk to your family, friends or a trained professional provider or counselor about how you feel
• Look for a support group, either in your area or online. Talking to others who have chronic Hepatitis B can help you see that you are not alone.
• You don’t have to face chronic Hepatitis B alone. Your doctor, family, and friends are there to support you.