Hepatitis B

What is it?

Hepatitis B is a viral infection that affects your liver. The liver is a body part that filters toxins from your blood. Most of the time your body is able to fight off Hepatitis B by itself. If your body can’t fight off the infection you may develop chronic Hepatitis B, which means that the infection stays with you for life.  Hepatitis B can be prevented by a vaccine which is generally administered in Ontario schools in grade seven, around the age of 12.

How can you get it?

  • You can get Hepatitis B through oral, vaginal, or anal sex with a partner who has the infection. The infection is transmitted when your mouth, vagina, or anus comes into contact with your partner’s sexual fluids. Sexual fluids include ejaculate, vaginal fluid, and anal fluid.
  • Hepatitis B can also be transmitted through non-sexual activities that put you into contact with someone else’s blood, such as sharing injection drug equipment or tattoo needles.
  • Sharing toothbrushes, nail clippers, or razors with someone also poses a small transmission risk.

How do you know if you have it?

Many people do not show symptoms of this infection. When you do show symptoms, they can include:

  • Not feeling hungry
  • Fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Feeling very tired
  • Jaundice, which is when your eyes or skin take on a yellowish colour.

How is it treated?

There is no cure for chronic Hepatitis B. However, there are medications that can help you manage the infection.

How can you help prevent it?

The Hepatitis B vaccine is widely available, so you can ask your doctor or visit your local health centre. Other important ways to help prevent transmission include:

  • Use barriers like condoms and dental dams during sex
  • Do not share drug equipment such as needles or pipes
  • Make sure you are aware of the health inspection certificates of the tattoo or piercing parlour before getting tattooed or pierced
  • Make sure you see the tattoo artist or piercer open new needles and throw-out used needles
  • You can also choose to engage in sexual activity that does not pose a high risk for this infection transmission such as giving or receiving a massage, mutual masturbation, or sharing a sexual fantasy.
  • You can also ensure that you and your partner have been tested and do not have Hepatitis B before engaging in sexual activity.

How are you tested?

Hepatitis B is tested for through a blood test. This is usually done by drawing blood from your arm. Tests for this infection are usually accurate 1 month after the sex act or other activity that could have exposed you to it.

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