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Dr Alice Lam

“Having HBV is only a small facet of who you are, and not a reason to give up on a loving relationship. A partner who accepts you as you are and wants the best for you is someone who will not see HBV as a barrier to getting to know you.” – Lindsey1, member of the Hepatitis B Information and Support List, Hepatitis B Foundation blog

Although most people get hepatitis B at birth, it can be transmitted in other ways including sex. This article contains information about how it is spreads, and how you can keep your partner safe.

How Hepatitis B is spread through sex

Hepatitis B contained in blood, semen or other fluids can be spread through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex. As it is very infectious, it transmits easily through breaks in the skin or mucous membranes (the lining of the nose, mouth, eyes and other soft tissues)2.

We also need to remember that hepatitis B infection can occur through non-sexual contact such as sharing toothbrushes, razors or contact with an infected open wound.

However, it is not spread through normal hugging or kissing, or sharing meals, showers or toilets with someone who has hepatitis B3.

How can we prevent the spread of hepatitis B?

The best way to prevent hepatitis B infection, is to get vaccinated. Given hepatitis B can be spread in many different ways, it is strongly advised that all household contacts and sexual partners should be vaccinated, as well as using condoms with sexual partners4. By the way, vaccination is usually free for the above groups5.

If you are concerned you may have been put at risk of hepatitis B, or that you may have put someone else at risk, contact your GP or local sexual health clinic straight away. Your doctor can also contact a sexual partner for you, without including your details if you wish to stay anonymous.

Telling others about your diagnosis

After you have had time to come to terms with your diagnosis6, you may wish to start thinking about disclosing your condition to others.

 There are many possible reasons for disclosure, such as:

  • one or more sexual partners have been possibly exposed to the virus during sex without a condom
  • you are embarking on a new relationship.

Knowing when and how to disclose can be difficult. Some people may be supportive, whereas others may withdraw or even be angry. Often this is due to their lack of knowledge about the condition. Be prepared that a relationship may change or even end.

Here are some tips that may help with the process7:

  • Make sure you know the basics about hepatitis B so you can answer some of the more common questions.
  • Before you speak to them, practise how the conversation might go with a good friend, considering both best and worst scenarios.
  • Choose a meeting place where you feel comfortable and safe. Face-to-face is usually best, rather than through email, for instance.
  • Ask them to keep your diagnosis confidential.
  • Bring something you can show like a leaflet or point them to a website like Hepatitis Australia or the National Hepatitis Infoline phone number 1800 437 222.
  • Give the person time and space to digest what you tell them.
  • Look after your own mental health during and after disclosing.

 Finally, you may find these insights help you to negotiate your own relationships and communicate your diagnosis.

“My personal philosophy and method is to be selective about the people I choose to date.  To me, it is important if the potential date has common sense and good character. Once I feel this person is worthy of my time and attention, I have the talk about my hepatitis B, and that HBV is vaccine preventable.  If they are interested in continuing a romantic relationship with me, they need to be vaccinated to protect against HBV.  Some may have already been vaccinated, and if so, HBV is no longer an issue.”



 “You need to approach dating, not as who will ‘accept’ you, but rather who ‘deserves’ you. Perspective is everything. If you see a health issue like HBV as a unique barrier to intimacy others will not understand and might reject you for, you will create self-defeating thoughts that not only limit your happiness, but are inaccurate. Everyone has issues. Whether it is health, mental, social or financial, we all feel alone at times and want a connection with another soul.” – Lindsey1, member of the Hepatitis B Information and Support List, Hepatitis B Foundation blog


References

  1. Hepatitis B Foundation. 2020. Dating and Hepatitis B – A Personal Perspective. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.hepb.org/blog/dating-and-hepatitis-b-a-personal-perspective/. [Accessed 11 March 2020].
  2. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2010. When Someone Close To You Has Chronic Hepatitis B. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/HBV/PDFs/HepBWhenSomeoneClose.pdf  [Accessed 24 February 2020].
  3. Hepatitis Australia. 2019. What is hepatitis B? [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.hepatitisaustralia.com/what-is-hepatitis-b  [Accessed 24 February 2020].
  4. Hepatitis B Foundation. 2020. Prevention Tips. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.hepb.org/prevention-and-diagnosis/prevention-tips/  [Accessed 24 February 2020].
  5. Australian Government Department of Health. 2018. Hepatitis B immunisation service. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/immunisation/immunisation-services/hepatitis-b-immunisation-service  [Accessed 24 February 2020].
  6. Hepatitis Australia. 2019. Dealing with your hepatitis B diagnosis. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.hepatitisaustralia.com/dealing-with-your-hepatitis-b-diagnosis. [Accessed 24 February 2020].
  7. Hepatitis NSW. 2019. Hepatitis factsheet: Disclosure. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.hep.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Factsheet-Hep-disclosure.pdf. [Accessed 24 February 2020].

Last updated 

19 March 2020