The first time I heard about hepatitis B was when my dad caught the infection while he was in the hospital. Because he had Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, the infection hastened his death.
After I was diagnosed with Type 2, I learned that my immune system could be weakened by high blood sugar levels, which meant it would be easier to catch and harder to fight off viruses. For the first time I was urged to get a flu vaccine.
It made me wonder: Was my dad’s experience with hepatitis something to worry about? Were all of us with diabetes more likely to get sick from hepatitis B? After all, it is a virus too.
But according to the CDC, you cannot catch hepatitis B in the same manner as you would the flu. The only way to contract it is to come in contact with the blood, semen, or other body fluid of someone who has it. It is not spread through activities such as kissing, holding hands, coughing, or sneezing. This means if someone with hepatitis B coughs near you at the supermarket, you will not catch it from him.
However, the experts also said that simply having diabetes makes us twice as likely to get hepatitis B. Our immune system is compromised, making it more difficult to fight off viruses like hepatitis B.
What makes this particular virus scary is what it can turn into. Hepatitis B starts as an acute infection similar to many other viruses, with flu-like symptoms. Most people who contract the virus fight it off without ever knowing they had hepatitis B.
But a small percentage of people do not fight it off. If after six months the virus lingers, it is now considered to be chronic hepatitis B. This is when it gets serious, because it begins to do permanent damage, causing jaundice and liver failure. It sometimes even develops into liver cancer.
Since liver damage can happen after many years with uncontrolled diabetes, our doctors do give us blood checks every few months to monitor our liver health. But we do not get regular checks for hepatitis B.
For that reason it is a good idea to understand how it is contracted. By following simple rules you can protect yourself from the possibility of getting hepatitis B. These rules are especially important to know when you have diabetes.
Because the virus is spread by blood, and you check your blood sugar with a glucose monitor, make sure you cannot come in contact with another person’s blood. Never let someone else use your glucose monitor or lancet device. Never reuse needles or share them.
Blood droplets too small to be seen can carry the hepatitis B virus, and it can stay alive for at least seven days outside the human body. So even if something looks clean, it may not be.
When our dad contracted hepatitis B, we were warned not to share toothbrushes or razors, because blood drops can be found on both after use.
Make sure your podiatrist is careful to follow sterile procedure protocols, because instruments like nail clippers have been known to spread hepatitis B among patients. For the same reason you should never share your personal nail clippers or scissors.
A big question in diabetes treatment today is whether or not you ought to go ahead and get the hepatitis B vaccine. The consensus right now seems to be that if you have been diagnosed with either Type 1 or 2 diabetes, and you are under 60, you should be given the vaccine as soon as possible.
The effectiveness of the vaccine decreases with age, so the experts leave it up to you and your doctor to decide if you are over 60. If you worry about it and want the vaccine, your doctor will likely do it for you.
It is important to receive the full series of three shots for the vaccine to be effective. A simple blood check afterward will let you know whether the vaccine is active.
Be forewarned about the possible points of contact for hepatitis B. Some of the most likely places for a person with diabetes to contract hepatitis B are in a nursing home or hospital, from a careless podiatrist, or from a home health-care professional who reused a glucose monitor.
Remember, if you think you came in contact with hepatitis B, talk to your doctor. The blood check will put your mind at ease, and the sooner you receive treatment, the quicker you will get better. Take care.
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