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Ask Dr. K
HEPATITIS B VACCINE

QUESTION
I recently found out that I have Hepatitis B. I wanted to know if it's useful to get the vaccine once the infection clears up. Also my first blood test showed my liver enzymes at 970, but on the second one, they went down to 70. I really don't understand what's considered normal. My doctor did not prescribe any medications for this or my Hep B condition. Is this ok?

ANSWER
There is no need for a vaccination after infection. The vaccine offers protection before infection, not after.

After infection two things can happen: 1) A person clears the virus and becomes immune or 2) A person does not clear the virus and become a chronic carrier. Fortunately -- for adults -- the older you are, the more likely you are to clear the infection. People who clear the virus do not need treatment. Follow-up blood tests after infection are the only way to know which way things will go for you.

Here is some basic information about hepatitis. Hepatitis is the name for inflammation or irritation of the liver caused by several different viruses. The viruses are classified by letters of the alphabet - with types A, B, and C being the most common. Each of these viruses can be transmitted in a number of ways, some sexually. Hepatitis B and C viruses can cause inflammation of the liver, liver failure, liver cancer, and death. Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is the most common cause of liver cancer in the world.

HBV is also the most common sexually-transmitted type of viral hepatitis. The virus is transmitted through anal and vaginal sex by sharing body fluids (blood, semen and vaginal fluids). People who share or use needles with contaminated blood with an infected person can also become infected. Currently, blood transfusions are rarely the cause of HBV infections in the United States due to the improved screening of blood supplies. Although tattoo, body piercing, and acupuncture needles may transmit HBV, they account for only a small proportion of the total reported cases in the United States.

You asked about monitoring liver enzymes -- it is one important part of routine care for Hepatitis B management. Next time you see your doctor, bring up the subject of treatment and ask him or her to explain your liver enzyme numbers and what's normal. Your best bet is to bring a list of questions with you so you don't forget anything when you're in the exam room.

Tell your friends get vaccinated. All sexually active persons with new partners are at some risk for hepatitis B.

To your health,
Dr. K


   
 
Last modified on Thursday, November 19, 2009.
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