Frequently asked questions on Hepatitis B in China

15 May 2015

Basic facts

1. What is hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a very serious and potentially life-threatening liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus.

2. What is chronic hepatitis B infection?

Hepatitis B infection can lead to a life-long infection in which the virus is constantly in the blood and other body fluids of an infected person. This is called chronic hepatitis B infection, and is sometimes called being a carrier of hepatitis B virus. People with chronic hepatitis B infection are capable of infecting others.

3. What health problems can hepatitis B infection lead to?

Infection with the hepatitis B virus can cause both immediate and long-term health problems. Immediate health problems can include jaundice, loss of appetite, fever, vomiting, and feeling ill. In about 1% of hepatitis B infections, rapid and fatal liver failure occurs. After the immediate problems from hepatitis B infection resolve, the infection can become long-lasting, even life-long. In this situation, called chronic hepatitis B infection, the person has a high probability of developing cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer, both of which are fatal conditions.

4. How is hepatitis B virus transmitted?

Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is transmitted:

  • from infected mothers to infants at the time of birth
  • through exposure to infected blood, semen, and other body fluids
  • through transfusions of HBV-contaminated blood and blood products, and contaminated injections during medical procedures
  • through sharing of infected needles during injecting drug use

Hepatitis B poses a risk to healthcare workers who sustain accidental needle stick injuries while caring for infected patients.

5. Can hepatitis B virus be transmitted through hugging, kissing, breastfeeding, or other casual contact?

No. HBV is not transmitted through:

  • Sharing tableware, dishes or cooking utensils with someone who has the infection
  • Breastfeeding by an infected mother
  • Hugging, kissing, coughing or sneezing

6. What kind of symptoms do people with hepatitis B have?

Symptoms can include jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), dark urine, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. However, most infants infected with hepatitis B virus have no symptoms, and about half of infected adults have no symptoms.

Individuals with chronic hepatitis B infection usually have no symptoms, even though they are capable of infecting others. These individuals can have flare-ups of their infection that causes symptoms associated with liver damage, including feeling ill, nausea, and weakness.

7. How many people are living with hepatitis B in China?

An estimated 90 million people in China are infected with Hepatitis B and have the virus in their blood at all times. Many infected people do not know of their infection due to a lack of symptoms and a lack of testing.

8. How can I protect myself from an infection?

Safe and effective hepatitis B vaccines are available for people of all ages. Three doses are needed for full protection, and over 95% of people who have been vaccinated are protected. Successful vaccination results in life-long protection. WHO does not recommend routine booster doses after the series of 3 doses.

If you do not know whether you have been vaccinated, you can have a blood test to determine whether you are susceptible to hepatitis B and need to be vaccinated in order to be protected. Alternatively, you can simply get vaccinated.

Further:

  • always demand the use of sterile injection equipment, sterile medical equipment, and sterile dental instruments;
  • practice safe sex, including use of barrier (condom) protective measures. Condoms can also protect you from other sexually transmitted diseases;
  • don’t share toothbrushes and razors with people whose hepatitis B status you do not know;
  • demand sterile piercing and tattoo instruments;
  • demand the use of screened blood for transfusion only;
  • if you are an injecting drug user, use sterile injection equipment, and don’t share needles.

9. How do I know if am infected with hepatitis B?

Blood testing can determine if you have chronic hepatitis B infection, whether you were previously infected but are no longer infected, whether you are immune to hepatitis B virus, and whether you are susceptible to hepatitis B virus (and need to be vaccinated).

There are important benefits of knowing your hepatitis B infection status:

  • if you learn that you have chronic hepatitis, you can work with your healthcare provider to take necessary steps to keep yourself healthy and prevent the disease from getting worse;
  • if you learn that you are infected, you can take precautions to prevent the spread of hepatitis B to others.

10. Where can I get tested?

Hepatitis B testing is available in most health facilities in China.

11. Are there medicines available to treat a hepatitis B infection?

Treatments for hepatitis B infection are available. Early treatment reduces worsening of the liver disease, development of liver cancer and risk of death.

If you have hepatitis B, talk to your health care professional about your treatment options.

12. Is there a cure for HBV?

Currently, there is no cure for chronic hepatitis B infection. However, the virus can be controlled through treatment.

13. If I have chronic hepatitis B infection, what precautions should I take

A person with chronic hepatitis B is capable of infecting others. Therefore, do:

  • cover cuts and open sores;
  • properly discard items such as bandages and menstrual pads so you do not accidentally expose others to body fluids such as blood;
  • clean your hands properly after being in contact with your own blood and body fluids;
  • practice safe sex, including use of barrier (condom) protective measures. Condoms will also protect you from other sexually transmitted diseases;
  • tell your sex partner(s) that you have hepatitis so that they can get tested and vaccinated;
  • tell your household members to get tested for hepatitis B;
  • see your doctor regularly every 6-12 months to get tested for liver abnormalities and cancer;
  • demand the use of sterile injection equipment, sterile medical, and sterile dental instruments;
  • demand sterile piercing and tattoo instruments;

Do not:

  • share toothbrushes, razors and needles;
  • donate blood, plasma, body organs, tissue, or sperm;
  • pre-chew food for babies.

For more information, use this link for the WHO guidelines for the prevention, care and treatment of persons with chronic hepatitis B infection:

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