By: Olympus Ade-Banjo and Grace Nwaononiwu
Viruses have recently gotten increased public attention as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, however, the list of viruses to be aware of does not end with COVID’s bluster. As is tradition, Valentine’s Day approaches with buzzing awareness about the risks associated with transitory love – unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections. Sadly, HIV/AIDS is mostly all that people know and talk about when sexually transmitted infections are brought up. Out of about 20 sexually transmitted infections, hepatitis is the least discussed.
Did you just ask why you should care about any information on hepatitis B?
For starters, know that Hepatitis B has a global burden of at least 300 million people which is five times that of HIV – 38 million. Not just that, in 2019 alone, Hepatitis B-related diseases claimed at least 820,000 lives around the world which is almost twice the number of lives lost to HIV globally – 450,000. In a combined case of HIV and Hepatitis B, because the viruses share the same channels of infections, there are some 2.5 million individuals living with a co-infection of the two deadly viruses, having some of the slimmest chances of survival.
So now that we have your attention, what is Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis put simply is an inflammation of the liver that is mostly caused by viruses. They are Hepatitis A, B, and C. They have comparable, but not identical, transmission pathways and symptoms. However, the focus of our discussion is on Hepatitis B Virus infection (HBV).
Hepatitis B infection is spread by exchanging personal care products contaminated with infected blood such as toothbrushes and razors, from an infected mother to her child at birth, unsafe blood transfusion, unprotected intercourse, and sharing injections used to deliver medications. Hepatitis B infections are spread in the same way that HIV infections are, but are more contagious due to the virus’s concentration in bodily fluids.
Hepatitis B is the most common of the three illnesses because it is a ‘silent infection,’ meaning that one in three patients has no symptoms and hence is unaware of their infection. Hepatitis B is a short-term condition that most people recover from, symptoms include fatigue, low appetite, stomach discomfort, nausea, jaundice, in the acute form of Hepatitis B infection. However, between 2-6% of people develop a chronic (lifelong) form of the disease
Chronic Hepatitis B has been linked to major liver problems such as liver cancer and cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), which can severely affect the quality of life and even lead to death in 15-25% of persons. Hepatitis B is a vaccine-preventable disease with 98-100% protection, which is great news. Hepatitis can also be prevented through positive behaviors such as are practicing safe sex, avoiding sharing personal goods such as toothbrushes and razors, patronizing tattoo parlors that maintain proper cleanliness, and avoiding injection sharing.
There is no known cure for HBV and yes, most infected persons survive the infection, however, you can protect yourself from the risks associated with HBV by visiting the health center close to you to get tested and take your vaccine. Especially in this Valentine’s season, getting tested, taking the vaccine alongside one’s partner, and practicing safe sex can help us all beat hepatitis!