Hepatitis B and C
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, most commonly caused by a viral infection or by drinking too much alcohol. The hepatitis virus can cause acute and chronic infection and inflammation of the liver that can then lead to cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and liver cancer. There are several different strains of hepatitis; the two strains transmitted during unprotected sex are Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.
Hepatitis B is a common infection worldwide and is spread through the blood of an infected person; usually from infected pregnant women to their babies, or through child-to-child contact. It can also -be spread through unprotected sex or by injecting drugs using shared needles.
Acute symptoms include:
- feeling sick and/or vomiting
- aching muscles and joints
- weight loss
- loss of appetite
Symptoms can last up to two months but most adults infected with hepatitis B fully recover from the infection within a couple of months without treatment.
However, when long-term infections are seen most often in children, a long-term infection develops known as chronic hepatitis B, which can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Vaccination against hepatitis B is recommended for people in high-risk groups, such as healthcare workers, people who inject drugs, men who have sex with men, and people travelling to parts of the world where the infection is more common.
Antiviral medication can be used to treat it.
Hepatitis C is a common type of viral hepatitis in the UK and usually spreads through blood-to-blood contact with an infected person, most commonly through shared needles of injecting drug users. Although rare, it can be passed through bodily fluids including saliva and semen during unprotected sex.
Hepatitis C often causes no clear symptoms or only flu-like symptoms; therefore many people are unaware they are infected. Approximately, one in four people will fight off the infection but in some cases, the virus will stay in the body for many years causing a condition called ‘chronic hepatitis C’ which can lead to cirrhosis and liver failure.
There are currently no vaccines available for hepatitis C, though chronic infections can be treated by taking a combination of antiviral medications.
Hepatitis B and C together constitute a considerable burden of disease in the WHO European Region. Most people who are affected are unaware of their infection due to dormant symptoms and are at high risk of developing severe chronic liver disease and/or unknowingly transmitting the virus to others.
Risks for contracting Hepatitis
- having multiple sexual partners
- having another sexually transmitted infection (STI)
- being HIV-positive
- engaging in rough sexual intercourse
- not using barrier protection, such as condoms
There are a number of steps that may be taken to prevent contracting/ spreading hepatitis, a number involving safer sexual practice. The following are recommended:
- use a condom during all sexual contact, including oral sex
- ensure you use all barrier devices correctly in order to prevent ripping or tearing during intercourse
- do not engage in sexual contact when either partner has an open cut or wound in their genital region
- maintain sexual health with regular testing for STIs and ask sexual partners to do the same
- be honest about your sexual health with all partners (particularly if you have concerns or have tested positively for hepatitis)
- use extra precautions if you have HIV (your chance of contracting the hepatitis C virus is much higher)
- refrain from engaging in IV drug use and sharing needles. Also be wary of needles used for tattooing, piercing, or acupuncture- equipment must always be sterilized prior to use.
- get vaccinated for hepatitis B if you are in the high risk group. This includes:
- healthcare workers who are exposed to blood or body fluids
- babies born to infected mothers
- being close family or a sexual partners of someone with hepatitis B
- people travelling to or from a part of the world where hepatitis B is widespread (such as sub-Saharan Africa, east and southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands)
- people who inject drugs or have a sexual partner who injects drugs
- people who change their sexual partner frequently
- men who have sex with men
For further advice or information contact the primary care centre on 200 72355 to get an appointment with your GP or nurse practitioner.
You can also contact the Infection Prevention and Control Practitioners for advise on 200 72266 Ext:2315