WHAT IS IT?
Hepatitis B is a viral infection that affects the liver. It can be found in blood and body fluids including vaginal fluids, semen, breast milk, and saliva of individuals carrying the infection. Because it can be found in and transferred through blood, that means it is classified as an STBBI (sexually transmitted blood-borne infection). Most hepatitis B infections are short-term and will go away on their own. However, in about 5% of adult cases, hepatitis B turns into a chronic condition.
HOW WOULD I GET IT?
Hepatitis B is passed on through vaginal, anal, or oral sex with an infected person. It can also be spread through exposure to infected blood or blood products, such as sharing equipment for injection drug use or tattooing. Occasionally, hepatitis B can be passed on through contact with shared household items such as toothbrushes and razors, and it can also be passed on from an infected parent to an infant during childbirth.
HOW WOULD I KNOW I HAD IT?
Up to 50% of persons infected with Hep B have no signs or symptoms. If someone does develop symptoms, they will likely appear within 8 weeks after exposure to the virus. These symptoms often mimic the flu and may include the following:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Decreased appetite
- Joint pain
- Yellowing of the eyes and skin (rare)
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF AND YOUR PARTNER
- Use condoms during vaginal/penile or anal sex
- Use condoms or dental dams during oral sex
- Use condoms on shared sex toys
- Never share any form of used needles, jewelry, drug paraphernalia, tattoo ink, razors, toothbrushes, or any other item that comes in contact with blood and/or bodily fluids
- Research your chosen tattoo and piercing parlors and be aware of their cleanliness and sterilization policies
- Make an appointment to be tested regularly
- Make an appointment to talk to your doctor about methods of preventing the spread of Hepatitis B from parent to child during childbirth
TESTING AND WHEN TO GET TESTED
Hepititis B is tested through a blood test. At the HSHC, we offer non-nominal Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and syphilis testing. You can do this at the same time as the anonymous HIV/AIDS testing.BUT with this test, your health card and personal information are required. These STBBIs are considered “reportable” to the Nova Scotia Health Authority, which means they track infection rates and follow up and will inform previous partners if they are at risk of infection. However, your blood is drawn and sent to the lab under a code which is known only by the nurse. When the test results are back from the lab, they are transferred to your electronic chart.
The difference between non-nominal and anonymous testing can be confusing! Please feel free to ask us any questions you may have about the testing process.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM YOUR APPOINTMENT AT HSHC
To ensure clients receive appropriate pre-test counselling, each visit will take between 15-30 minutes, depending on the client’s concerns and needs. The visit will start with an explanation of how the anonymous/non-nominal testing program works. Clients will be reassured that they are in a safe and confidential environment.
The nurse will use an intake form to record a history, including questions like
- “How often do you use condoms?”
- “How many sexual partners have you had in the past year?”
- “Do you use IV drugs?”, etc.
They will then decide on the best testing option for you.
Clients are encouraged to ask questions and seek clarification about risk factors and risk behaviours.
The blood test results are back within a few days, helping to minimize client’s anxiety while waiting for results.
For STBBI testing, getting your results is easy! Typically, no news is good news! If your results are unclear or positive, one of our nurses will call you to book an appointment to discuss your results.
CAN IT BE TREATED AND CURED?
Most individuals (90%) infected with hepatitis B will naturally produce antibodies to fight the disease (i.e., they are cured of the virus without receiving treatment). However, some individuals will develop chronic hepatitis B, which means that they will carry the virus for the rest of their lives. It also means that they can pass on the virus to others for life. Although chronic hepatitis B cannot be cured, persons with this infection may benefit from treatment with interferon or an anti-viral medication.
Hepatitis A/B vaccines are available for free for certain at-risk clients (such as IV drug users) after an assessment by one of our nurses, who are specially trained to support you during your visit. Feel free to ask us any questions if you’d still like a vaccine but do not feel that you are a part of an at-risk group. There is currently no vaccine for Hepatitis C.
IF IT ISN’T TREATED, CAN IT LEAD TO MORE SERIOUS PROBLEMS?
Yes. Chronic infection of hepatitis B can lead to serious liver damage, including cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and cancer. Therefore, it is highly recommended that persons who develop chronic hepatitis B have their liver function monitored regularly. It is also important for pregnant people with chronic hepatitis B infection to talk with their doctors about their medical history, as their babies are at high risk for becoming chronic carriers. Infants can receive an injection of antibodies immediately after birth, followed by a vaccine to limit this risk.
HOW TO BOOK AND PREPARE FOR YOUR APPOINTMENT
BOOKING AN APPOINTMENT
Booking an appointment with us is easy! Give us a call at 902.455.9656 ext. 0. You will be speaking with either a volunteer or a medical administrator. We cannot book appointments over email or Facebook. You cannot book an appointment for someone else, even if they are your partner or child. We will need to speak with them directly.
To book for STBBI testing, we will need a first name (it can be fake!), and a phone number (in case we need to cancel your appointment unexpectedly, such as the nurse is ill, or the clinic is closed due to bad weather). That’s it! The person on the phone will outline anything you need to know to prepare for your appointment. Waitlists for STBBI testing can vary.
A health card is not necessary for HIV/AIDS testing, because it is anonymous. A health card is necessary for other STBBI testing, because it is non-nominal, but not anonymous.
Are you a youth? You do not need parental consent for any of our appointments.
Don’t have access to or lost your health card? You are entitled to your health card information! Call MSI toll-free at 1-800-563-8880 (in Nova Scotia) or at 902-496-7008 from Monday-Friday 8am-5pm. We require the number and the expiry date. Another tip: take a picture of your card! You will never lose it again!
- You need to eat something and drink lots of water before coming to your appointment. Other than that, there is no prep required for this blood test.