What Is Hepatitis B?
The hepatitis B virus causes hepatitis B, a deadly liver infection (HBV). Hepatitis B infection can become chronic, lasting longer than six months in some persons. If you have chronic hepatitis B, you’re more likely to develop liver failure, cancer, or cirrhosis, which causes the liver to scar permanently. Even if their symptoms are severe, most adults with hepatitis B recover completely. Chronic (long-term) hepatitis B infection is more common in infants and children. Hepatitis B can be prevented with a vaccine, but there is no cure if you already have it. If you’ve been infected, you can assist prevent the virus from spreading to others by following particular precautions.
Types of Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B infection can be either acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term) (chronic).
Acute Hepatitis B Infection
This doesn’t last more than six months. Your immune system will be able to clear acute hepatitis B from your system, and you should be fully recovered in a few months. The majority of people who have hepatitis B develop an acute illness, although it can progress to a chronic infection.
Chronic Hepatitis B Infection
This lasts at least six months and persists because your immune system is unable to combat the infection. Chronic hepatitis B infection can last a lifetime and lead to major health problems like cirrhosis and liver cancer. If you have hepatitis B when you’re young, especially as a newborn or a child under the age of five, you’re more likely to develop a chronic infection. A person’s chronic infection may go unnoticed for decades until they develop severe liver disease.
Symptoms of Hepatitis B
Infected persons do not always feel ill. Others who have recently been afflicted get symptoms that last several weeks. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and include:
- Pain in the abdomen
- Dark urine
- Joint discomfort
- Appetite loss.
- Vomiting and nausea
- Weakness and exhaustion
- Your skin and the whites of your eyes turn yellow (jaundice)
Causes of Hepatitis B
The hepatitis B virus causes hepatitis B infection (HBV). The virus is transmitted from one person to another via blood, sperm, or other bodily fluids. HBV can be spread in a variety of ways, including:
If you have unprotected sex with an infected person, you could contract hepatitis B. If you come into contact with an infected person’s blood, saliva, sperm, or vaginal fluids, the virus can infect you.
Mother to Child
During childbirth, HBV-infected pregnant mothers can spread the virus to their offspring. The newborn, on the other hand, can nearly always be vaccinated to prevent infection. If you are pregnant or want to become pregnant, talk to your doctor about getting a hepatitis B test.
Sharing of Needles
HBV is easily transmitted via infected blood-contaminated needles and syringes. Hepatitis B is spread through sharing IV drug paraphernalia.
Hepatitis B isn’t transmitted by:
Kissing on the lips or on the cheeks
Coughing or sneezing
Hugging, shaking hands, or holding hands
Eating food prepared by someone who has the virus
Risk Factors of Hepatitis B
- Children whose mothers are infected with hepatitis B
- Children who have been adopted from countries where hepatitis B infection is prevalent
- People who have had unprotected intercourse and/or have had a sexually transmitted infection
- Individuals who reside in, or work in institutions such as prisons or group homes
- First responders and healthcare providers
- People who exchange syringes or needles
- People who share a home with someone who has a chronic hepatitis B infection
- People undergoing dialysis
Complications of Chronic HBV Infection
Scarring of the Liver (Cirrhosis)
Hepatitis B infection causes inflammation in the liver, which can cause significant scarring (cirrhosis) and damage the liver’s capacity to function.
People with chronic hepatitis B have a higher chance of developing liver cancer.
How to Diagnose Hepatitis B
Your doctor will examine you for signs of liver disease such as yellowing skin or abdominal pain. These are tests that can help the diagnosis of hepatitis B or its complications:
These can detect hepatitis B viral symptoms in your body and tell your doctor whether you have acute or chronic hepatitis B. A simple blood test can also tell whether or not you’re immune to the disease.
To check for liver disease, your doctor may take a small sample of your liver for examination (liver biopsy). A tiny needle is inserted through your skin and into your liver during this procedure, and a tissue sample is taken for laboratory analysis.
Transient elastography, a type of ultrasonography, can reveal the extent of liver damage.
How to Prevent Hepatitis B
One of the most effective strategies to prevent hepatitis B is to be vaccinated. It’s safe, effective, and readily accessible. Hepatitis B vaccine is usually administered in three or four doses over the course of six months. This vaccine is recommended for the following persons:
- Those who work or reside in a developmentally impaired person’s center
- People who live with a hepatitis B carrier
- Unvaccinated children and adolescents
- Anyone infected with a sexually transmitted infection, such as HIV
- People who have more than one sexual partner
- Sexual partners of a hepatitis B patient
- Chronic liver disease patients
- Males who have intercourse with other males
- People who work in health care, emergency services, and other professions who come into contact with blood are at risk
- People who inject illegal narcotics or exchange needles and syringes
- End-stage kidney disease patients
- Travelers wanting to visit a region with a high hepatitis B infection
Here are other preventive measures:
- Having a healthy sex life (using latex or polyurethane condoms for any sex act)
- Personal care items such as toothbrushes and razors should never be shared
- Getting tattoos or piercings only at shops that employ safe hygiene practices
- Don’t share needles to use drugs
- Request blood tests from your doctor to see if you have HBV or if you are immune to it
How to Treat Acute and Chronic Hepatitis B
Acute Hepatitis B
You may not require treatment if your hepatitis B infection is acute, meaning it is short-lived and will go away on its own. Instead, while your body battles the infection, your doctor may advise rest, adequate nourishment, and plenty of fluids. Antiviral medications or a hospital stay may be required in severe cases to avoid consequences.
Chronic Hepatitis B
The majority of persons who are diagnosed with chronic hepatitis B infection require lifelong treatment. Treatment lowers your chances of developing liver illness and keeps you from spreading the virus to others.
Here are treatment options for chronic hepatitis B:
Entecavir (Baraclude), tenofovir (Viread), lamivudine (Epivir), adefovir (Hepsera), and telbivudine (Tyzeka) are some of the antiviral medications that can help combat the virus and decrease its ability to damage your liver. These medications are given orally. Consult your doctor to determine which drug is best for you.
Interferon alfa-2b (Intron A) is a human-made version of an infection-fighting chemical produced by the body. It’s mostly used by young people with hepatitis B who want to avoid long-term treatment or women who want to get pregnant after finishing a short course of treatment. During pregnancy, interferon should not be taken.
A liver transplant may be an option if your liver has been seriously damaged.
Now that you Know…
The vast majority of adults infected with hepatitis B are able to resist the infection and recover completely within one to three months. Most people will be immune to the virus for the rest of their lives. Hepatitis B infection in babies and toddlers is more likely to develop into a chronic infection. Although medication can assist, patients with chronic hepatitis B are at risk of developing life-threatening complications such as liver scarring (cirrhosis) or liver cancer.