First published in Tulay Fortnightly, Chinese-Filipino Digest 27, no. 7 (August 5-18, 2014): 13.
Dear Dr. Ong,
Five years ago, I found out that I have hepatitis B. Up to now, I am still positive for hepatitis B. My wife is blaming me because she believes I got it from sleeping with other women. In my opinion, I contracted hepatitis B because of my work in giving first aid. Dr. Ong, I plan to work abroad. Will I still get well?
Please help. — Jaime
For those who are hepatitis B carriers, you don’t need to worry too much. With proper knowledge and care, you can live with this disease.
Approximately 11 percent to 16 percent of Filipinos are positive for hepatitis B. That’s a huge number, but many of them do not feel anything. Worldwide, there are 400 million people with chronic hepatitis B. Majority of them are men.
Hepatitis B is a virus that infects the liver. The virus can be seen in the blood, saliva, semen and menstrual blood of a person with hepatitis. In most cases, the infection is for life.
It can be contracted in three ways:
1) the virus is passed on during childbirth from mother to child;
2) by having intimate relations with a person with hepatitis B;
3) through transfusion of blood that is positive for hepatitis B.
To keep your body strong against hepatitis B, follow these 10 liver-protection tips:
- Avoid drinking alcohol. Totally cut it out, because too much alcohol can destroy liver cells.
- Be careful with your medicine and supplements. Since most of these drugs and herbs pass through the liver, they can potentially add further injury to the liver. Ask your doctor first before taking anything.
- Live a clean life. No smoking and late partying. Try avoiding second hand smoke, too.
- Eat healthy foods. Consume lots of vegetables and fruits. Choose colorful fruits and vegetables and vary the kinds you eat. Try apple and carrot juices, which is my personal favorite.
- Limit foods that are bad for the liver, like fatty food, fried foods and butter.
- Avoid all junk food.
- Eat more fish rather than meat.
- Soup and food with sauces are better because they are easier to digest and absorb.
- Sleep at least seven to eight hours a day. Rest often and don’t overstress yourself.
- Exercise moderately.
How do you protect yourself from someone with hepatitis B?
The blood of a hepatitis B carrier can potentially infect another person. Try to avoid using the same toiletries as the person. Avoid using the same razor, toothbrush, nail clippers and utensils.
For married couples, if one person is infected with hepatitis B, make sure that the other person has the hepatitis B antibody (which protects him or her).
Otherwise, he or she should get a hepatitis B vaccine series. If you’re not sure, use a condom during sex.
For pregnant women with hepatitis B infection, tell your doctor immediately about it. Your child will be given hepatitis B vaccine upon birth to protect him from becoming infected.
Is there a cure for hepatitis B?
Right now, there is no total cure for hepatitis B. However, you can live a productive life if you follow the liver protection tips mentioned.
For a select group of patients, there are expensive drug, like Interferon and Lamivudine, which may be helpful.
Depending on your gastroenterologist’s evaluation of your blood test, these drugs may be beneficial for you.
Your gastroenterologist doctor is your liver expert and he or she will help you find the best plan of treatment.
Are supplements effective for hepatitis B?
According to Dr. Venancio Gloria, one of our country’s foremost gastroenterologists, it is still unclear whether these liver supplements offer any help. However, it appears that they won’t do any harm either. So it’s up to the patient to decide. (Just read the label. There is no therapeutic claim.)
Finally, here are 10 helpful rules for hepatitis B carriers:
- Consult your doctor at least once a year for your follow up.
- Regularly monitor your liver enzymes (SGPT, SGOT), alpha fetoprotein and do frequent liver ultrasounds.
- Do not donate blood, sperm or body organs.
- Remind your doctor, dentist or nurse that you are a carrier of hepatitis B.
- If pregnant, tell your doctor you are a carrier of hepatitis B.
- Do not share toothbrushes, razors, needles or nail cutters.
- Do not share food that has been in your mouth.
- Cover all cuts and wounds with bandage. Clean spilled blood thoroughly.
- Be careful not to spread hepatitis B to others. Throw personal items like tissues, menstrual pads and bandages in a plastic bag. However, hepatitis B cannot be transmitted by sneezing, coughing or casual contact.
- Stay informed on the latest research, vaccines and drugs. Consult your doctor about the latest findings. Stay positive and take care.