Diabetes and Hepatitis B, Should You Be Vaccinated?

Diabetes and hepatitis B have been in the news because the CDC says type 2 diabetics are twice as likely to catch the virus. So should you get the hepatitis B vaccine?

When I hear about a study that concludes we are twice as likely to get hepatitis B, it gets my attention. Why?

Because the combination of diabetes and hepatitis B killed my father. He had type 2 diabetes and spent some time in the hospital after a heart attack.

But it was hepatitis B that took him at the age of 55.

Why Diabetics Need Vaccination

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control now say doctors should vaccinate every type 2 diabetic under the age of 60 to protect against the hepatitis B virus.

They think glucose monitors may be the culprit in passing the virus among diabetics.

Since hepatitis B is in blood and body fluids, they look for some kind of contact with infected blood.

If a blood glucose monitor or lancet device was shared, the virus could be carried on it.

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The amount of blood can be microscopic, and the virus stays alive up to seven days on surfaces.

This is why sharing toothbrushes and having unprotected sex are dangerous for people at risk for hepatitis B.

High risk lifestyles like multiple sexual partners and sharing drug needles are well known to cause the transfer of hepatitis.

People who travel to high risk destinations get HBV vaccinations before they leave.

Now we are on the list too. Type 2 diabetes and hepatitis B are linked because of the constant need to give blood at labs and get blood sugar tests done. So who among us is most at risk?

What Is Hepatitis B?

Understanding diabetes and hepatitis B is the first step. Because HBV is a virus, antibiotics will not do anything to fight it.

There are many kinds of hepatitis, but hepatitis B is a concern because, unlike hepatitis A, it has both acute and chronic types. 

Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver caused by a virus. In acute hepatitis B you may have nausea, vomiting, fever and aches. You probably think you have the flu. Or you may have no symptoms at all.

During the acute stage doctors treat the symptoms if you have any. Many people simply get over it with no damage done. Their bodies fight off HBV like any other viral illness.

If Acute Turns to Chronic

But if after six months the virus remains, you have chronic hepatitis B. Some of the warning signs are easy bruising, dark-colored urine, and clay-colored stools.

You may develop jaundice, where your skin and the whites of your eyes become tinged with yellow, a sign that bilirubin is building up in your body.

Here is why.

Your liver is a blood filter, among its other jobs. One of the waste products of the breakdown of red blood cells is bilirubin. It is supposed to be sent to to your bladder, turning your urine yellow.

But if hepatitis B inflammation is present, your liver is not filtering as well. Now your body tries to get rid of bilirubin through your eyes and skin.

If chronic hepatitis B continues, it can destroy your liver. Cirrhosis, cancer and liver failure are possible outcomes, leading to liver transplants in some people.

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 or more before the hepatitis B is cleared, and there are some serious side effects to them.

You must be watched closely while you are on the antiviral, but it is the only weapon that works right now against this virus.

The longer you had HBV without getting diagnosed the more difficult it will be. So if you have been exposed or even suspect that you have, get tested.

There is an immune globulin shot that, given along with your first HBV vaccine dose, may keep the virus from settling in. But it works best at this early stage.

You will receive a series of three shots. If you have diabetes and hepatitis B at the same time, complete the series. Take it seriously.

Stopping It Early, the Vaccine Argument

For both diabetes and hepatitis B, early detection is the key. The quicker your doctor catches the virus, the less liver damage it can do.

Health professionals want to vaccinate every adult at high risk of getting hepatitis B. Since that now includes type 2 diabetics, should you get in line?

If you are in a high risk occupation like nursing you should get vaccinated.

Hospitals are a great place to find hepatitis B, so if your job takes you there often you need to think about getting the vaccine.

Also, if someone in your home or immediate family gets hepatitis B, you need to get vaccinated along with everyone else who lives with you. That is standard procedure.

If you need assistance to do blood sugar testing, you are at risk is for having type 2 diabetes and hepatitis B.

It makes you more likely to come in contact with another person's blood.

But if you test by yourself and never share your meter or lancet device, you cannot catch hepatitis B from your glucose monitor.

Do you notice that your nurse wears gloves to prick your finger for a fingerstick blood test?

My nurse opened a packet to get a single lancet. "Why doesn't she just use a lancet device?"  I wondered.

She took the test strip away, and I never saw a glucose monitor. After learning about hepatitis B, I understand.


Because diabetes and hepatitis B may begin without visible symptoms, blood tests are essential for both.

Remember, you cannot get hepatitis B by being around sick people. Shaking hands, hugging, sitting next to them does not transfer hepatitis B.

Drinking after someone else, sharing a glucose monitor or a toothbrush, kissing, any transfer of body fluid puts you at risk.

If you worry about hepatitis B, you can get vaccinated easily now that the CDC recommends it.

There will be three shots in total, which you must complete for the vaccination to work.

For prevention, use good hygiene with your glucose monitor, lancets and needles. Wash your hands and use a clean surface.

I hope diabetes and hepatitis B do not become a problem for you, but if they do, take action right away.

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