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Protect yourself against Hepatitis B
Dr Roopa Nishi Viswanathan |
September 12, 2005
Did you know?
~ Hepatitis B is more contagious than HIV.
~ Hepatitis B can be a killer disease.
~ Hepatitis B does not spread by casual contact.
~ The Hepatitis B virus can survive in the environment for asignificant period of time.
Read on to know how you can protect yourself and your family from this deadly disease.
How do I know if I have Hepatitis B?
This disease is caused by the Hepatitis B virus that attacks your liver.
If you have any of these symptoms, visit your doctor immediately:
- Yellow skin or yellowing of the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
- Fatigue, aches, loss of appetite, nausea
- Abdominal discomfort
- Dark urine and clay-coloured bowel movements
A simple blood test will indicate whether you have Hepatitis B.
Is Hepatitis B the same as viral hepatitis or jaundice?
Jaundice is nothing but yellowing of the skin and the mucus membranes.
One of the causes of jaundice is viral hepatitis, which can be caused by different kinds of viruses including Hepatitis A, B, C, D and E viruses.
The Hepatitis A virus causes the more common form of viral hepatitis, colloquially known as 'jaundice'. It spreads as a result of poor hygiene, through the stools of infected persons.
If you've had Hepatitis A or C in the past, it is still possible for you to get Hepatitis B.
How can I get Hepatitis B?
The virus is transmitted through contact with the blood or body fluids from infected persons:
- Unprotected sex with an infected person
- Sharing needles
- Getting pricked accidentally by a contaminated needle
- From an infected mother to her baby during childbirth
Hepatitis B is not spread through food or water, sharing eating utensils (they should, however, be washed properly before use), hugging, coughing, sneezing (if the mouth is covered) or by casual contact.
Is Hepatitis B a dangerous disease?
Hepatitis B can cause lifelong infection, cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, cancer of the liver, liver failure, and even death.
What kind of treatment is available?
Currently, there are no drugs fully effective against acute Hepatitis B. Some medications are available for treatment of chronic Hepatitis B.
Many clinical trials are in progress and new drugs have been launched; most of the treatment options available are extremely expensive.
How can I prevent the disease?
As with many other diseases, prevention is the key.
~ The Hepatitis B vaccine is extremely effective.
~ Effective use of latex condoms during sex can prevent the spread of the virus.
However, remember that even condoms do not offer complete protection, especially if they are not used correctly.
~ Wash your hands frequently, especially after touching lift buttons, public taps, stair railings, etc. The virus can survive on these surfaces for hours, sometimes even days!
~ Do not share needles, razors or even toothbrushes because even personal care items can harbour the virus for long periods and transmit it to you.
~ If you are getting a tattoo done or your ears pierced, make sure you go to a professional who sterilises his equipment carefully.
Who should get vaccinated?
Now, all babies are vaccinated against this disease. It is recommended that children below 18 years of age be vaccinated.
If your lifestyle or job puts you at a high risk of infection, you need to get vaccinated.
Anyone can choose to get vaccinated. Vaccination offers you protection from this potentially deadly disease.
How many doses are needed?
Three. The vaccination schedule most often used is three intramuscular injections; the second and third are administered one and six months respectively after the first.
The schedule is flexible and can vary with different brands and physicians, but make sure you follow the schedule advised by your doctor.
You must take all the three doses. A single vaccine will not offer sufficient protection.
Is the vaccine safe?
The Hepatitis B vaccine is extremely safe and can even be taken in pregnancy.
Any doctor can give this vaccine -- your family physician or even a nurse.
For kids, it is usually the pediatrician who administers it along with the other immunisations.
How much does the vaccine cost?
There are different companies that manufacture this vaccine. It can cost around Rs 100 per dose.
The price used to be pretty high but has now come down drastically.
Dr Roopa Nishi Viswanathan has an MBBS from KEM Hospital, Mumbai, with a Master in Nutrition from the University of Texas at Austin.