Imagine an invader silently infiltrating our bodies, infecting us without our knowledge. Well, that is hepatitis B for you.

Unseen and stealthy, hepatitis B hides in plain sight, causing chronic infections and putting people at risk of long-term health complications.

Unlike its counterparts such as hepatitis A and C, which often present with noticeable symptoms, hepatitis B distinguishes itself through its asymptomatic nature. Many infected individuals remain unaware of their infections for years, acting as carriers, ready to unwittingly pass it on to others.

What is Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus, and its outcome varies among those infected. Some individuals may experience a short-term illness lasting a few weeks, while others who are infected may go on to develop chronic hepatitis B.

Infected patients with acute hepatitis B may exhibit symptoms such as fatigue, abdominal pain, dark urine, or jaundice, while others remain asymptomatic. In some severe cases, hospitalisation may also be required.

As time passes, chronic hepatitis B can impact the liver significantly, resulting in health complications such as liver damage, cirrhosis (permanent scarring and hardening of the liver), and even liver cancer.

How is Hepatitis B Transmitted?

While hepatitis is primarily known as a liver disease, did you know that Hepatitis B is also a sexually transmitted disease? During sexual intercourse, a carrier of Hepatitis B transmits the virus through vaginal and seminal fluids, infecting his or her partner.

Individuals who have multiple sexual partners are particularly susceptible to contracting Hepatitis B as the increased exposure to potential carriers of the virus amplifies the risk of transmission.

Apart from sexual transmission, Hepatitis B can also be transmitted via items contaminated with infected blood, or mother-to-child transmission during pregnancy and childbirth.

A baby who acquires Hepatitis B through a mother-to-child transmission generally does not manifest any symptoms. However, the baby can go on to become a Hepatitis B carrier as they will not be able to eliminate the virus from their bodies.

Loving mom carying of her newborn baby at home.

How to Prevent Hepatitis B?

The prevention of hepatitis B and mitigating the consequences of this virus begins with understanding the virus and adopting preventive measures.

  1. Individuals who are sexually active, especially those with multiple sexual partners, should consistently practice safe sexual protection during intercourse, such as using a condom. Sexual partners should also promote and initiate honest communication so as to gain a clear understanding of each other’s sexual history.
  2. Avoid sharing personal items such as needles, razors, and even toothbrushes, that are prone to coming into contact with blood. One should always maintain personal hygiene and use sterile equipment.
  3. Hepatitis B Vaccination – Ultimately, the most effective way to protect oneself against hepatitis B is through vaccination. By getting vaccinated, not only can we shield ourselves from the disease, but also create community immunity. Vaccination helps reduce the transmission of the hepatitis B virus and move towards our goal of safeguarding our community.

Taking the initiative to get screened is a proactive step towards protecting your health and the well-being of the people around you.

Remember, early detection and prevention are key in combating all diseases including hepatitis B. Prioritise your health by adopting safe practices. Together, we can work towards a life free from hepatitis B!

This article is contributed by:
Dr Ho Woon Yang, Senior Family Physician, Raffles Medical