More people die from Hepatitis B (a highly contagious virus) every year than HIV—and we have a vaccine to prevent it! Why is this happening? Children receive the Hepatitis B vaccine series in childhood, but anyone over the age of 25 most likely did not receive this vaccine as a child! Hepatitis B can easily be sexually transmitted, and the vaccine protects for a lifetime, yet the vaccine is often forgotten when an adult seeks sexual health care. It is impossible to get Hepatitis B from the vaccines that are currently used in the United States.
Approximately 1.4 million people have chronic hepatitis B infection in the United States, and approximately 1 million Hepatitis B–related deaths occur annually in the United States. Additionally, Hepatitis B is the cause of 80% of all liver cancer. So the Hepatitis B vaccine not only prevents lethal liver infections, but it is an anti-cancer vaccine as well!
The Hepatitis B is transmitted between people by direct blood-to-blood contact or via the semen or vaginal or other body fluids of an infected person. While methods of transmission are the same as those for HIV, Hepatitis B is 50–100 times more infectious and transmissible! Unlike HIV, Hepatitis B can survive outside of the human body for up to 7 days. During this time, the virus can still cause infection through exposure to the body fluids of a person who is not immune.
Consider asking for the Hepatitis B vaccine series at your next health care visit to protect yourself against this deadly virus. The deadly liver infections and cancers could so easily be prevented by specifically asking for the Hepatitis B vaccine when you seek sexual health care.
By Diana Lithgow, PhD, RN, FNP
Family Nurse Practitioner at Laguna Beach Community Clinic for 32 years