Diabetes and hepatitis B are linked in my mind because of my father. He had type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and he had spent time in the hospital after a heart attack. But none of that killed him.
He contracted hepatitis B, and he never got over it. He was 55 when he died. So when I hear about a study that concludes type 2 diabetics are twice as likely to get hepatitis B it gets my attention.
The CDC Says Diabetics Need Vaccination for Hepatitis B
The US Centers for Disease Control have come out with a new recommendation. They are asking doctors to get their type 2 diabetic patients under the age of 60 vaccinated against the hepatitis B virus (HBV). And they think glucose monitors may be the culprit in the passing of HBV.
Since hepatitis B is passed on in blood and fluids, there has to be some kind of contact with infected blood. If a blood glucose monitor or lancet device was shared among several diabetics, the virus would be carried from one person to another.
The amount of blood can be microscopic, and the virus stays alive up to seven days on surfaces. That's why sharing toothbrushes and having unprotected sex are two of the big no-nos among people at risk for hepatitis B.
High risk lifestyles like having multiple sexual partners and sharing drug needles are well known to cause the transfer of the virus, and people who travel to countries where they might come in contact with hepatitis often get the vaccinations before they leave.
But now type 2 diabetes and hepatitis B are linked because of the constant need to check blood sugars and get blood testing done. So who among us is most at risk?
What Hepatitis B Is All About
Understanding diabetes and hepatitis B is the first step. Because HBV is a virus, antibiotics will not do anything to help. There are many kinds of hepatitis, but hepatitis B is a concern because, unlike hepatitis A, it has both acute and chronic types. And it is the chronic type that causes liver damage.
Hepatitis, put simply, is inflammation of the liver caused by a virus. In acute hepatitis B you may have nausea, vomiting, fever and aches. It looks and acts like the flu. The problem is that you may have no symptoms at all.
During this acute stage all you can do is treat the symptoms if you have any. Many people simply get over it with no damage done. Their bodies fight it off like any other viral illness.
But if after six months the virus remains, you now have the chronic form. Some of the warning signs are easy bruising, dark-colored urine, and clay-colored stool. And you may develop jaundice. Your skin and the whites of your eyes will become tinged with yellow.
These are signs that bilirubin is building up in your body. The reason? Your liver is a blood filter, among its other jobs of fighting infection and helping with digestion and blood sugar control.
One of the waste products of the breakdown of red blood cells is bilirubin, and your liver is supposed to filter it out into your urine, giving it that yellow color. But if hepatitis B inflammation is present, bilirubin is not getting filtered out very well, and your body tries to get rid of it through your eyes and skin.
If chronic hepatitis B continues unstopped the virus will damage your liver. Cirrhosis, cancer and liver failure are possible outcomes, and some people have had to get a liver transplant because of it.
Diabetes and Hepatitis B Diagnosis and Treatment
Your doctor can use simple blood tests to screen you for hepatitis and find out which kind you have. He can also use ultrasound and x-rays to check your liver health. If HBV has become chronic he will send you to a gastroenterologist or other liver specialist.
That doctor will monitor you closely and if the need is great, he will do a liver biopsy to see what stage of liver disease you have. He has antiviral medications to offer. You will probably have to be on them for a year before the virus is cleared, and since the medications have serious side effects you will visit him often.
The longer you had HBV without getting diagnosed the more difficult it will be for you. So if you've been exposed or even suspect that you have, get tested. If the virus is caught early there's an immune globulin shot your doctor can give you along with your first HBV vaccine shot, and that may keep the virus from settling in to stay. There is a series of three shots you must get for the vaccination to be complete.
The earlier your doctor can catch hepatitis B the less liver damage it will do. And many health professionals would prefer to vaccinate those at high risk of getting it. So should you be vaccinated?
The people most at risk of having type 2 diabetes and hepatitis B are those who get assistance from someone else to do their blood sugar testing. That's because they are more likely to come in contact with another person's blood from a shared glucose monitor.
If you do your own blood testing and never share your meter or lancet device, you are not going to catch hepatitis B from your glucose monitor. But if you are in a high risk occupation, such as nursing, or you visit people in the hospital where the virus is more likely to hang around, you need to think about getting the vaccine.
Diabetes and Hepatitis Are Incurable But It's Not the End of the World
Because both diabetes and hepatitis B can be quiet in the beginning, regular testing for them is a great idea. Be assured that you will not get this virus just by being around other people. Shaking hands, hugging, sitting next to sick people does not transfer hepatitis B.
Drinking after someone else, sharing a toothbrush, any transfer of fluids or drops of blood, those are the things that put you at risk. It is why your nurse always wears gloves even if she is just pricking your finger to get a fingerstick blood test.
I have noticed that my nurse opens a packet with a single lancet and does not use a lancet device. After she uses a test strip she leaves the room with it, and I never even see a glucose monitor. I wondered why until I learned about hepatitis B. Now I'm grateful she is so careful.
If you have type 2 diabetes and hepatitis B worries you, you will be able to get vaccinated now that it is a recognized problem with official recommendations. Remember, you'll have to get all three shots to complete the course or the vaccination will not take.
And practice good hygiene with your glucose monitor, lancets and needles. Washing your hands and keeping your testing area clean is basic, but it's easy to forget that when you have to do it every day, and several times a day for many of us.
I do hope diabetes and hepatitis B are never a problem for you, but if that should happen, and this information helps you, then I've done what I set out to do. Take care.