Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by a virus. Without treatment the liver can be permanently damaged.

What is it?

The hepatitis B virus enters the body through the mucus membranes of the genitals. It spreads to the liver through the bloodstream where it causes inflammation. In the Netherlands, the hepatitis B virus is mainly transmitted through penetrative sex (vaginal and anal). There is a small risk of infection through oral sex and cunnilingus. Hepatitis B infection can also occur via the blood, for example through needles, drug use or shared razors and toothbrushes. Pregnant women can transmit the virus to their child.

Symptoms

  • Most people have no symptoms
  • Fatigue, (mild) fever, listlessness, nausea
  • Muscle and joint pain, inflammation of joints
  • Skin abnormalities
  • Abdominal pain
  • Jaundice: yellow white of the eyes, yellow skin, dark (tea-coloured) urine, occasional discoloured faeces
  • Without treatment it can lead to permanent liver damage or cancer of the liver

Have I got it?

Most people have no symptoms. On average, symptoms occur two to three months after infection. The symptoms last a few weeks to six months. If all symptoms have disappeared, you can still remain tired for months.

How do I get rid of it?

Acute hepatitis B usually clears up by itself within six months without medication. Rest and healthy eating are important. But sometimes a chronic infection occurs. In this case, a person remains a carrier of the virus and can infect other people. A carrier can get medication to suppress the virus. Sometimes the virus then disappears from the body.

Free vaccinations

In the Netherlands, groups with a higher risk of hepatitis B receive free vaccinations. These groups include sex workers, drug users and men who have sex with men. The vaccine used for this is safe and effective.
The vaccination consists of three injections. After the first injection, a second one is given a month later. The third injection is given five months after the second one. Someone who has been vaccinated has long-term protection against hepatitis B. You can know for sure by having your blood tested for hepatitis B antibodies four to six weeks after the last vaccination. You usually have to pay for this test yourself.

Advice

  • Go to a doctor for an STI test; if you have symptoms, but also if you have sex with men, have injected drugs, or if you or your parents come from a country where hepatitis B is common
  • Notify sexual partners from the last six months
  • Other people who may be at risk through you should be tested
  • With chronic hepatitis B, regular sexual partners and housemates can get vaccinated
  • Prompt vaccination against hepatitis B prevents infection. For example if you prick yourself with a needle or after sex without a condom with someone with hepatitis B. Vaccination should follow quickly afterwards, within seven days
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