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Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B

February 15, 2024
Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a potentially serious liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). This viral infection can lead to chronic liver disease and puts individuals at an increased risk of developing liver cirrhosis or liver cancer.

Hepatitis B is often a short-term infection, also known as acute, that lasts less than six months. However, for some, the infection develops chronic, which means it lasts longer than six months.

What causes Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). HBV is highly contagious and can be spread through contact with infected blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and saliva. The virus can be transmitted through:

  • Sexual contact with an infected person
  • Sharing needles or syringes with an infected person
  • Mother-to-child transmission during childbirth
  • Contact with open sores or wounds of an infected person
  • Sharing personal items such as razors or toothbrushes with an infected person

Additionally, the virus can be contracted through close contact with an infected person’s open sores or wounds.

What are the signs and symptoms of hepatitis B?

The symptoms of acute hepatitis B range from mild to severe. They often emerge between 1 to 4 months following infection. They may also appear as early as two weeks. Some people may not experience any symptoms at all. However, when symptoms do occur, they can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • Dark urine
  • Pale stools

Complications of Hepatitis B Infection

Living with a chronic hepatitis B (HBV) infection can give rise to severe complications, including:

1.  Scarring of the Liver (Cirrhosis): The inflammation associated with hepatitis B can result in extensive scarring of the liver, known as cirrhosis. Cirrhosis can impede the liver’s normal functioning.

2.  Liver Cancer: Individuals with a chronic hepatitis B infection face an elevated risk of developing liver cancer. The prolonged inflammation can contribute to the development of cancerous cells in the liver.

3.  Liver Failure: Acute liver failure is a critical condition where the essential functions of the liver cease to operate. In such cases, a liver transplant becomes imperative for survival.

4.  Reactivation of the Hepatitis B Virus: Individuals with chronic hepatitis B, particularly those with a weakened immune system, are prone to hepatitis B virus reactivation. This reactivation can lead to significant liver damage or even liver failure. 

People taking immunosuppressive medications or undergoing chemotherapy are at higher risk. They should undergo hepatitis B testing. If positive, consulting a liver specialist (hepatologist) before starting these therapies is crucial.

5.  Other Conditions: Chronic hepatitis B may also contribute to the development of additional health issues, such as kidney disease or inflammation of blood vessels. These complications underscore the systemic impact of the virus beyond the liver.

Treatment options for Hepatitis B

There is no specific medication to cure hepatitis B. The treatment depends on whether the infection is acute or chronic. Acute hepatitis B usually resolves on its own within a few months. Treatment is focused on relieving symptoms and supporting liver function. Chronic hepatitis B, on the other hand, requires antiviral therapy to suppress the virus and prevent liver damage.

Commonly prescribed antiviral drugs for hepatitis B include:

·      Entecavir

·      Tenofovir

·      Lamivudine

These medications work by suppressing viral replication. Thus, reducing the viral load in the body, and slowing the progression of liver damage.

Hepatitis B Prevention

The best way to prevent hepatitis B is through vaccination. The hepatitis B vaccine is safe and effective and is usually given to infants soon after birth. The vaccine is also recommended for adults who are at high risk of infection, such as:

·      healthcare workers

·      people with multiple sexual partners

·      people who inject drugs.

In addition to vaccination, other measures to prevent hepatitis B include:

  • Practicing safe sex
  • Not sharing needles or syringes
  • Not sharing personal items such as razors or toothbrushes
  • Covering open sores or wounds
  • Getting tested for hepatitis B if you are pregnant

When to visit a doctor?

If you are aware that you have been exposed to hepatitis B, call your doctor very away. If you obtain preventive treatment within 24 hours of being exposed to the virus, you may be less likely to become infected. If you suspect you have hepatitis B, go to your doctor.

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