hepatitis; liver; virus; immunisation; drugs unsafe sex;
What is hepatitis?
There are 5 viruses which are known to cause infection of the liver. They are hepatitis A, B, C, D and E.
What is Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is an infection of the liver which is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). This infection leads to damage of cells in the liver.
Most babies and very young children, and some older children and adults, who are infected with Hepatitis B do not become ill themselves but they still carry the virus in their body and can infect others. They are known as 'carriers'.
What does it look like?
The Hep B virus can cause an illness which can last for several weeks.
||You will feel tired and you will lose your appetite (you will not feel like eating). This can last for many weeks.|
||Your skin and eyes will look yellow. This is called jaundice (say jorn-diss).|
||Your urine (wee) will look very dark.|
||You may feel nauseous, like you want to throw up. You may vomit often (throw up).|
In a few people Hep B leads to permanent damage of the liver, called cirrhosis (say si-row-sis), or to liver cancer.
How do you get it?
Hepatitis B is a very infectious virus. It is passed on through contact with blood or blood products or through sexual contact.
This can happen when:
- people have unsafe sex, without using a condom
- someone gets a body piercing or a tattoo, if the person doing the piercing or tattooing is not very careful with making sure that everything is very clean
- an infected mother might pass it to a newborn baby at the time of the baby's birth
- drug users share needles
- there is a needle or stick injury - when someone is pricked by a needle or something similar that has infected blood on or in it. This might happen if someone steps on a needle that has been used by someone using drugs. It can also happen to doctors or nurses when they are operating on someone who has hepatitis B.
- An infected person's blood touches someone who has a break or graze on their skin.
How you can avoid getting hepatitis B
You can't catch Hep B by eating food, drinking water, or by playing with someone who is a 'carrier' or is sick with hepatitis B.
You can't get Hep B from hugging, kissing or someone sneezing on you.
The best way to make sure that you don't get hepatitis B is to be immunised against it – to have Hep B shots.
In Australia all babies can be immunised against Hep B on the day they are born and again at 2, 4 and 6 or 12 months.
- If you did not get immunised as a baby you can be immunised at any age when you are older. Often school children are immunised against Hep B in Australia when they are in year 8.
- Some children who were not born in Australia have not been immunised against hepatitis B. They can get immunised at any age.
Be very careful about contact with blood
Some people have not been immunised against hepatitis B. These people should always be very careful about contact with blood.
Some other infections such as hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS are spread by contact with blood – so everyone should be careful about contact with blood even if they have been immunised against hepatitis B. There is no immunisation which can protect you from hepatitis C or HIV/AIDS.
||If someone is injured and is bleeding, wear plastic gloves if you need to help them stop the bleeding or to clean the blood up.
||It's a good idea to get the person who is injured to clean their own wounds or apply pressure to open wounds if you don't have plastic gloves. |
||Have a look at the topic 'First aid – bleeding' for more about this.|
Other things to do:
||Don't share things like toothbrushes, nail files or razors with anyone.|
||Make sure that things like bloodstained tissues, sanitary pads and first aid dressings are put in rubbish bins where others can't touch them. |
||Be very careful if you decide to have a body piercing or a tattoo when you are older, that you choose someone who does these very safely. |
(Note: In South Australia it is an offence for young people under the age of 18 years to be tattooed.)
||Clean and use disinfectant on any surfaces eg. bathroom sink or kitchen bench, where you have been cleaning and dressing wounds.|
- When you walk in public places like playgrounds, pavements or the beach always wear shoes or thongs in case you step on a needle that has been thrown away by someone using drugs.
- Don't pick up a needle from the ground. Tell an adult about it and he or she will get rid of it safely.
The 'blood rule'
All sports have adopted the 'Blood rule". This means that any player who is injured and has blood on their skin or clothing has to leave the playing area. The player can only return to the game after bleeding has stopped, wounds covered with a waterproof dressing and blood cleaned off clothes or skin.
- "Wear shoes when you are out. You don’t know what you could step on." Emma
- "Never touch anyone’s blood unless you wear gloves."
- "I am an umpire for netball so I have to know what to do when someone gets blood on them or is bleeding. They have to leave the court and cannot have blood on their clothes or bib. I am not allowed to touch them or tend to them. That is the coach's job." Rachel
- "Get a bandage on bleeding cuts to be safe."
- "Take care to clean your ears if you have them pierced and put tape over earrings if you are playing sport in case your ear is damaged and starts to bleed."
Dr Kate says
Immunisation against hepatitis B is very safe and works very well to stop the spread of this disease.
We've provided this information to help you to understand important things about staying healthy and happy. However, if you feel sick or unhappy, it is important to tell your mum or dad, a teacher or another grown-up.