What the heck is it anyway?
Hepatitis is a liver infection, caused by a virus. There are a few types of hepatitis, but three of them can be sexually transmitted: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. Hepatitis B (HBV) is most likely to be sexually transmitted, through semen, vaginal fluids, blood and urine. The CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) estimates that between 800,000 and 1.4 million people in the U.S. have chronic Hepatitis B.
Like many STIs, Hepatitis B often doesn’t have any symptoms. About half of people who have Hepatitis B don’t know they have it because they don’t have symptoms. And even if they DO display symptoms, they can take anywhere from six weeks to six months to show up, and look a lot like a lot of other diseases (ahem, the flu). Hepatitis B symptoms can include:
- Extreme tiredness
- Loss of appetite
- Severe abdominal pain
- Pain in the joins
Here’s the scary thing: you can spread HBV even if you don’t have symptoms. So it’s important to reduce your risk with the Hepatitis B vaccine, testing, treatment, and open and honest conversations with your partner.
There is a Hepatitis B vaccine, and it comes in a series of three shots that helps your body build up antibodies. (Side note: an antibody is a protein that your immune system produces when it senses harmful substances in your body.) North Carolina requires all public school students to get the Hepatitis B vaccine before starting school, so you might already be covered.
Condoms (male and female) do a pretty good job of protecting you and your partner against Hepatitis B if you’re not vaccinated. You should also avoid sharing razors, needles and toothbrushes with other people, since Hepatitis B can also be transmitted through the blood.
If you’re diagnosed with a Hepatitis B infection, it’s important to discuss it with your partner so they can protect themselves from infection. It’s a difficult discussion to have, for sure, but difficult discussions are important for building trust between you and your partner. (Besides, what’s hotter than having sex with someone you know AND trust?)
Hepatitis B is usually diagnosed with a special blood test. It’s not usually included in routine blood tests, so if you’re worried about Hepatitis B, you should request it specifically. Most people who are infected with Hepatitis B are 20-49 years old, but even if you don’t fall in this age range, you should still get tested to keep yourself safe and healthy.
In North Carolina, you have the right to get confidential STI tests and treatment without a parent’s permission. Want to get tested, but not sure where to start? Use this nifty search tool to find a testing site near you.