What is Hepatitis?
Hepatitis can be caused by several different medical conditions, including alcoholism. Typically when most people talk about it, they are referring to viral hepatitis. This form of the disease can be caused by one of five viruses, called hepatitis A through E. The most common strains – hepatitis B and C, often shortened to HBV and HCV – affect millions of Americans, with thousands of new cases each year.
HBV and HCV are both spread through infected blood, while HBV can also be spread by sexual contact or through other infected fluids. A vaccine is available for hepatitis B which is 95% effective, but there is no vaccine for hepatitis C.
Viral hepatitis can be either acute, with a single significant flare-up, or chronic, lasting over months or years. Acute cases are usually managed by treating symptoms, rather than attacking the virus directly. Only about 6% to 10% of adults who contract HBV develop chronic hepatitis, but most who have HCV are chronic. Some chronic patients can be treated with one or a combination of antiviral drugs, potentially curing the disease.
How Does Hepatitis Affect Fertility?
Of the five hepatitis viruses, only hepatitis B is associated with impaired fertility. Most studies focus on its effect on male fertility. However, there is evidence linking hepatitis B to decreased female fertility as well. Overall, individuals with hepatitis B are 1.59 times more likely to experience infertility than individuals who are not infected.
The primary factor in HBV is the virus’ S protein – HBs – which according to studies lowers sperm motility and reduces the fertilization rate of sperm by more than half. The protein attacks the cell membrane in sperm, killing them or significantly degrading their normal function.
HBV Infection in Women and Men
In women, HBV infection in women has been associated with increased risk of tubal and uterine infertility. Surprisingly, HBV infection in men was also linked to increased risk of tubal infertility in their partners. Both effects are believed to be due to the HBV virus lowering the woman’s immune system and increasing the chance of pelvic infection.
If you or your partner suffer from hepatitis B, you should consult with your doctor about possible problems getting pregnant.