Hepatitis B infection is spread through direct contact with blood and body fluids as well as through sexual intercourse, so there are numerous ways to avoid infection. The most effective way to prevent a hepatitis B infection is by getting vaccinated against it, which provides immunity for at least 20 years. Another important prevention measure is to practice safe sex by using latex condoms. One can also prevent infection by making sure to never share anything that comes in contact with blood or body fluids, such as needles and razors. Further ways to avoid hepatitis B infection include proper cleanup of blood spills, correct disposal of medical needles, and using precautions when handling blood.
More than 350 million people worldwide have a chronic hepatitis B infection, and about 1 million people die annually from the incurable disease. The virus affects the liver and can cause cirrhosis and liver cancer. The virus is spread through infected blood and body fluids through activities such as sexual contact, injection drugs, and childbirth.
Getting vaccinated is a safe and effective way to prevent a hepatitis B infection in adults and children by providing long-lasting immunity, but the availability of the vaccine varies by country. Many countries, such as the United States, France, and Germany, include it as part of routine newborn vaccinations. For newborns, it requires three shots to complete the vaccination. The first shot is given within the first 12 hours of birth, the second around two months of age, and the third at about six months. Those infants who are born to mothers infected with the hepatitis B virus should also receive immunoglobulin within 12 hours of birth.
Another way to avoid a hepatitis B infection is by using latex condoms. This practice is especially important if one has a partner who is infected with the virus. It is also recommended if one has multiple sex partners within a six-month period.
Additionally, one should not share any items that can come in contact with blood or other body fluids. This includes needles, syringes, and drug paraphernalia. Personal care items like razors and toothbrushes should not be shared as well. If one is getting a tattoo, it is wise to make sure the equipment is sterilized and the artist is wearing gloves to avoid spreading hepatitis B infection. Similarly, if going to a barber, one should be certain the razors are clean and sterile.
Proper cleanup of blood spills and disposal of needles can also help prevent the spread of the hepatitis B virus. For example, one can use a solution containing 10% bleach, which can kill the virus, when cleaning up blood. Medical professionals should always dispose of used needles by following the correct protocol. Those who have jobs that expose them to blood should use precautions to avoid getting a hepatitis B infection. If unvaccinated and exposed to the hepatitis B virus, one should get an intramuscular injection of hepatitis B immunoglobulin within 14 days if possible.