Hepatitis B is a viral infection of the liver and the world’s most common liver infection. Over 240 million people are chronically infected world-wide according to the World Health Organization. There are two kinds:
- Acute hepatitis B lasts six months or less. Most healthy adults will recover naturally from acute hepatitis B within a year, though liver failure and severe illness are possible.
- Chronic hepatitis B lasts more than six months. Chronic hepatitis B can lead to liver failure, scarring of the liver (cirrhosis), or liver cancer.
Acute hepatitis B can turn into chronic hepatitis B. The likelihood that infection with the virus becomes chronic depends upon the age at which a person becomes infected. Children who become infected at less than 6 years of age are the most likely to develop chronic infections.
Hepatitis B is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). The virus is passed from one person to another through contaminated body fluids including:
- Breast milk.
- Semen and vaginal secretions
Consequently, sexual contact, accidental needle sticks or sharing of needles, blood transfusions, and organ transplantation are ways that HBV can be transmitted. Infected mothers can also pass the infection to their newborns during delivery. Genetics may play a role as well as there have been genes identified that may affect how susceptible a person is to contracting HBV.
- Having unprotected sex with someone who is infected.
- Using drugs with needles. Getting a tattoo or piercing with contaminated tools.
- Being born in a country where the virus is common.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
- Loss of appetite.
- Fatigue or sleep disturbances.
- Stomach or abdominal pain, which may be mild and intermittent.
- Dark yellow urine.
- Yellowish skin and eyes (jaundice).
Hepatitis B does not always cause symptoms and some of these symptoms indicate that liver damage is already done, so the disease may be advanced before diagnosis is made.
DIAGNOSIS and TESTS
Diagnosis is made by blood tests to assess liver function and to test for viral markers in the blood. These tests can help doctors determine whether the hepatitis is acute or chronic. Imaging studies (ultrasound, CT, MRI) also help doctors evaluate patients with Hepatitis B.
Preventing the progression of liver disease, particularly to cirrhosis, liver failure, or hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer) is the primary goal of treatment. Typically acute disease is managed supportively, but for those who have chronic hepatitis B, antiviral drugs are the mainstay of treatment. Some are given by injection while some are given by mouth.
Dietary restrictions are indicated for those with advanced disease or cirrhosis.
Alcohol should be avoided.
Transplantation may be an option for those with advanced disease and liver failure, but precautions must be taken to prevent the “new” liver from becoming infected as well.
- VACCINATION!!! Get vaccinated for Hepatitis B if you haven’t already. The rate of new HBV infections in the US has declined by approximately 82% since 1991, when routine vaccination was recommended.
- Avoid risky behaviors like unprotected sex and needle sharing.
The type and severity of disease determines the prognosis. Remission of chronic infection is possible, but screening continues for life. Reactivation of the virus is possible, and people who have had HBV infection are at higher risk for developing liver cancer later in life. In the United States, chronic HBV infection results in an estimated 2,000–4,000 deaths per year.
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- 13 Apr 2016
- FOSRX/FAST Services