November 29th, 2010 | Published in Hepatitis B Overview
Hepatitis is a virus that causes inflammation of the liver which may lead to chronic infections, cirrhosis, and liver cancer. There are eight different types of hepatitis, and the three main types in the United States are Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C. Hepatitis is often spread through contaminated food and sharing infected hypodermic needles. Hepatitis A is spread through human feces and can be spread through sexual activity, but this is rare. Hepatitis B and C can also be contracted through sexual contact classifying this virus as a sexually transmitted disease.
Hepatitis B, or HBV, is passed through direct contact with blood, semen, or vaginal fluids. Unprotected vaginal, oral, and anal sex is the most common means of transmission among adolescents and adults. HBV is about 50 to 100 times more infectious than HIV, and it is very easily transmitted through sexual activity. HBV can also be spread through by sharing drug needles with infected individuals. Less commonly, it can be passed through tattoo, piercing, and acupuncture needles, but this only accounts for a small proportion of reported cases in the United States. Mothers can also pass the virus on to their child during birth.
Men who have sex with men (MSM) are 10 to 15 times more likely to contract Hepatitis B than the general population. There is an effective vaccine for Hepatitis B, and it is recommended as a routine vaccination for infants and adolescents, as well as adults over 18 who are at risk. At risk individuals include health care professionals, MSM, drug users, and sex workers, among others.
Hepatitis C, or HCV, is the most common blood borne infection in the United States and is primarily spread through blood. Hepatitis C can be spread through vaginal or anal sex, but transmission through sexual intercourse is rare. Factors contributing to the sexual transmission of HCV include the following: sex with multiple partners, presence of other STDs, or trauma sex (i.e., rough sex, rape, or sexual abuse). Transmission through oral sex has not been reported. Like Hepatitis B, HCV can also be passed from mother to child during birth.
There is no vaccine for Hepatitis C. When used correctly, latex condoms are 99% effective in preventing against both Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. Approximately 80% of those infected with HCV do not experience symptoms so it is important to get tested if you are at risk to avoid long-term liver damage.