Hepatitis B is a potentially fatal infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis b virus. The World Health Organization estimates that nearly 600,000 people die worldwide from hepatitis b infection every year. To put that into a more local perspective, the CDC estimates that there are 43,000 new cases every year in the United States alone. Why only an estimate? Unfortunately, many people who contract this virus are asymptomatic, or unaware that they have an infection. Being asymptomatic, however, does not reduce the risk of transmission. Arm yourself with the knowledge necessary to ensure that you can stay healthy and hepatitis b free.
What is Hepatitis B?
The hepatitis b virus was originally discovered in 1967 by Dr. Baruch Blumberg, and now less than 50 years later the World Health Organization estimates that over 2 billion people worldwide have been infected with this virus. As mentioned earlier, hepatitis b is an infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis b virus. This virus can attack liver, and in chronic cases lead to liver disease, cancer, and even death.
How is the Hepatitis B Virus Spread?
Hepatitis b virus is spread through direct contact with blood or contaminated body fluids of an infected person. This means that it cannot be spread through normal everyday contact, regardless of public perception. Hepatitis b will not be spread from sharing a toilet, or telephone, or any type of casual contact.
Major modes of transmission for hepatitis b include injection practices, and sexual contact. Sharing of IV needles with an infected person can lead to transmission of the virus, as can needle stick injuries in the healthcare field. Engaging in sexual activity with an infected partner can also result in transmission of the virus.
Another mode of transmission is mucous membrane contact with an infected body fluid. This would include your eyes, and/or gums coming into contact with blood, semen, or saliva. This is a type of transmission that is often overlooked, but can be a common cause of infections in household contacts of persons with hepatitis b. Sharing of products such as razors, or toothbrushes can result in a transmission of hepatitis b through mucous membrane contact.