Now let’s look at hepatitis B virus. It reproduces
in the liver causing inflammation and possibly cirrhosis, liver failure or liver cancer.
When first infected, a person can develop an “acute” infection, which can range in severity
from a very mild illness with few or no symptoms to a serious condition requiring hospitalization.
Acute hepatitis B, which means sudden onset and short term, refers to the first 6 months
after someone is exposed to the hepatitis B virus. Some people are able to fight the infection
and clear the virus. 90% or more of adults and older children who contract hepatitis
B are likely to clear the virus from their systems within a few months and develop a
full immunity. About 10% become chronic– the virus stays in the blood– infecting liver
cells, damaging them over time, and causing illness such as cirrhosis, liver failure or
liver cancer. Infants and young children are most at risk
from chronic infections, complications, and death. Further, in most children, the virus
is a silent killer. It destroys the liver or induces liver cancer, liver failure or
cirrhosis often over a period of 20 years or more. It is estimated that up to 1.2 million people
in the US have chronic HBV infection. About 38,000 people per year become infected with
HBV. Each year, about 3,000 people die as a result of liver disease caused by HBV. Infections
have significantly decreased since 1990 because of routine hepatitis B virus vaccination. Symptoms are unreliable and may or may not
be present. Only a blood test can determine the infection. Symptoms may include:
yellow skin (jaundice) yellowing eyes
tiredness loss of appetite
nausea dark urine
joint pain abdominal discomfort
fever Hepatitis B is unique in that it’s 100 times
easier to catch than HIV. This is because the virus is very small compared to HIV. Also,
Hepatitis B Virus can live outside of body for at least 7 days and much longer in the
right conditions. Hepatitis B virus is primarily spread by sexual
contact with an infected person, sharing needles and/or syringes. It can also be spread from
an infected mother to her baby during birth, or from contact with blood and body fluids
through breaks in the skin such as bites, cuts, or sores. People who are chronically
infected can spread hepatitis B virus to others, even if they don’t look or feel sick.
However, like HIV it is not spread by casual contact like handshakes, hugging, doorknobs,
using the same equipment, toilets, water fountains, etc. Unlike HIV or hepatitis C, there is a vaccine
for hepatitis B. It usually is given in 3 doses given over a 6 month period. Hepatitis B vaccine is made from non-infectious
material and cannot cause HBV infection. It is a safe vaccine where severe problems or
allergic reactions are still rare. HBV vaccine is 80 to 95% effective in providing
protection from hepatitis B when the complete series of three doses of vaccine are administered.
It is wise to have an immunity confirmed through antibody testing 1-2 months after the vaccine.
Booster doses of hepatitis B vaccine are not recommended at this time.
The HBV vaccine must be offered free to employees who face occupational exposure to bloodborne
pathogens. Employees who do not want the vaccine must complete a vaccine declination form.
Occupationally exposed employees include those who:
Administer first aid Provide medical aid to students
Assist in bathroom care Work in medical or dental offices
Perform custodial duties involving the cleaning and decontamination of surfaces that may be
contaminated with blood and or other potentially infections materials (OPIM).
Handle Regulated medical waste In general, any people with jobs that expose
them to human blood or other body fluids must be offered the hepatitis B vaccine free of