July 28th is World Hepatitis Day. Once again, the aim of this day is to raise awareness of hepatitis, inform people of how it is spread, what can be done to prevent it, and how to treat it.
There are two major forms of hepatitis, type B and type C. While they are much the same thing, an infection in the liver, they are contracted and treated in different ways. Hepatitis B is much more infectious, and can be spread through unprotected sex especially, and can even be spread through kissing. While it is easy to spread, it is also easy to prevent. There are vaccinations against hepatitis B, so if you think that you may be at risk, contact your GP about getting vaccinated. But apart from this, one of the easiest ways to help stop the spreading of hepatitis is to wear a condom. Safe sex massively reduces the risk of contracting the virus. Some misconceptions about hepatitis B are that you can catch it from things such as shaking hands with a person infected, or using the toilet after them. This is not true; the only way that the virus can be contracted is through displacement of bodily fluids, such as semen/vaginal fluid, blood and saliva.
Hepatitis C, while being a lot less infectious, is a lot harder to treat and still affects 170 million people worldwide. Unlike hepatitis B, hepatitis C can only be contracted through blood transfer, although in some rare cases it has been noted to be transferred through having unprotected sex. Hepatitis C cannot be passed on through kissing however.
Most often, hepatitis B will go away on its own after 6 months of getting it. However, 1 in 10 cases will go on to become chronic hepatitis B, which if left untreated can become liver cirrhosis, and after up to 40 years, liver cancer; please note that in some cases it could develop into liver cancer as early as 5 years after contracting the virus.
Hepatitis C is a lot rarer to go away on its own, with 4 in 5 cases developing into chronic hepatitis. This too can develop into liver cirrhosis, and then liver cancer, usually within 15-30 years after contracting it.
While there are typically not many symptoms, here is a list of possible symptoms, and it is recommended that if you experience two or more of these for a prolonged period of time (3-4 weeks), you should see your GP:
- Flu-like symptoms
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin)
- Stomach ache
- Diarrhoea/dark urine/light-coloured stools (poo)
- Aching muscles and joints
- Anxiety and depression
- Poor concentration
- Loss of appetite
Hepatitis A, though very common, is the least lethal, with only 0.5% of cases turning into chronic hepatitis. It is spread through many means, such as dirty drinking water, or contaminated food. It is typically confined to young children of undeveloped countries, and often has no symptoms, and will go away on its own after around 6 months. However, in developed countries young adults are also at risk, particularly those who visit undeveloped countries, but still it typically goes away after 6 months. Having had hepatitis A, and overcoming it, you will usually then become immune to that strand of the virus; however, in some cases you can have what is called a relapse of the virus up to 6 months after it going away, but again this typically will go away on its own after a further 6 months. It is still recommended that you do go and see your GP if you suspect having hepatitis A.
If you have any concerns about hepatitis, or would like to support the cause, or even hold your own event regarding the awareness day, then please visit the world hepatitis alliance website where you can download information packs, and get advice on treatments and other things to do with hepatitis.
Men's Sexual Health has been asked by Swindon NHS to put together a user voice forum for the people from the Swindon LGBT community. They are keen to hear you views on local issues, and what's currently affecting yourself and the LGBT community. If you are interested in taking part or would like to find out more please phone 01793 250951 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Saturday August 6th the fourth Swindon & Wiltshire Pride will take place in Swindon Old Town Gardens and once again the Men's Sexual Health team will be in force, with their large stall, where we will be providing advice and support, have a large range of leaflets, free condoms and lube, on site free Chlamydia testing, and the 2BME youth group. Last year was fantastic despite the rain which we all hope holds off this year.
If you would be interested in supporting us and becoming a volunteer to help at the event and other forthcoming occasions please download our application form.
As the summer approaches a lot of you will maybe going on holidays or maybe embarking on a gap year. Whatever your reason you should ensure you've considered the following:
- Many people have sexual encounters while abroad, and have unsafe sex, bringing back a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) with them to the UK. To ensure this doesn't happen, either abstaining from casual sex with unknown partners, or use condoms, lube and dams.
- Ensure you purchase condoms and lube before leaving the UK, even if you think you have no intention of meeting someone. It's better to have them and not use them, than to need them and not have them. Also buying in the UK should ensure that you have purchased a trusted brand that have been tested and has the kite mark on them with an in-date best before stamp, as other countries have different testing standards and you could end up with a poorer quality condom.
- Condoms should ideally be stored in a cool place, away from direct sunlight or heat as this could weaken the rubber.
- Do not use things like sun cream as lube, it will weaken the rubber on any condom, ensure you have a water based lube that has been marketed as safe to use with condoms.
- Hepatitis B is the only STI that you can be vaccinated against, so if you have concerns about the STI before you travel, ensure you see you local GP or GUM clinic 6 months before you travel.
- A lot of STI's have no symptoms, so don't assume that because you have no rash or discharge that you haven't caught anything. If you have had unsafe sex it is your responsibility to get it checked out.
- If you do develop a rash, or there is a discharge, abstain from any further sexual contact and see your GP or GUM clinic, even if the symptoms fade. Just because your symptoms disappear, this does not mean you body has cured itself, many STI's will flare up and then go dormant.
- Some countries have much higher rates of STI's than our country, such as HIV in Africa, thus increasing your chances of catching an STI if not using protection.
- Unfortunately homosexuality is illegal in some parts of the world. Ensure you have researched the area you are visiting to find out what their laws state.
- Some countries also have very strict religions where public displays of affection are forbidden, regardless of sexuality, so again ensure you research local laws beforehand.
- Be careful when meeting new people and making new acquaintances. Be very hesitant about going back to their place. If inviting someone back to your accommodation do not leave your money or passport in sight.
- Ensure you purchase your own drinks. If one is bought for you, something could be slipped into your drink. Try not to over drink as this often leads to engaging in activities you would not normally do when sober.
- Unless necessary to save your life, you should avoid having a blood transfusion in developing countries. If it is essential, request blood that has been screened for HIV, hepatitis B and C and Syphilis.
Hopefully you won't encounter any of the above issues. Knowing about them before hand should put you in position to avoid any difficult situations, and have a fantastic holiday if you are going away this summer.