Hepatitis B Transmittal

My college roommate just told me that she has hepatitis B. Unfortunately, I have also discovered that she has used my razor. She claims that she's not contagious, but I've heard otherwise. Who is right?

Actually, despite what anyone claims to the contrary, hepatitis B is indeed contagious. Like HIV, this virus is transmitted through contact with body fluids. It has been found in blood, saliva, semen, vaginal secretions, and breast milk. It can be transmitted through blood transfusions, sex, needle sharing with IV drug use, and yes, possibly razors, too. In fact, official recommendations for avoiding transmission include not even sharing toothbrushes, as brushing does cause microscopic tears in the gums and organisms can enter the bloodstream. All personal items should be separate. Hand washing after any exposure to body fluids can also minimize risk.

Whether or not your roomie is actually capable of infecting others is unknown as far as you can confirm. Hepatitis B can be transmitted whenever there is it present in the blood of the patient. It may be some comfort to know that only 1-2% of those with Hepatitis B become what is called asymptomatic carriers. These are people who are no longer actively sick, but are capable of infecting others.

While this may all sound pretty grim, there is certainly a bright side. For one thing, it is possible to be immunized against the disease before an exposure to it. It is even possible to avoid the disease if immunized up to two weeks after an exposure. Immunizations may be costly for now, but are readily available in doctors' offices and public health clinics alike, so it may not be a bad idea to check out the stance of one's health plan on the issue, too.

As for this specific case involving the use of a razor, while it is obviously a good idea to get tested for hepatitis B, the chances are quite slim that the disease was actually transmitted. After all, the virus causing the disease won't survive long when exposed to air. As the best advice (in addition to seeking immunization from the college health clinic), get disposable razors and hide them from that roommate . . .or perhaps even consider "going natural" and doing without the razors altogether. And hey, even when there's no disease involved, roomies since the beginning of time have done the "I would really appreciate it if you didn't use my ______" talk.

Interestingly enough, while AIDS transmission and death rates are blazed across the news on a regular basis, few people know that hepatitis is spread more frequently than its more famous cousin is. In fact, hepatitis causes more deaths each year than AIDS.

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