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Hepatitis B: here is all you need to know

Hepatitis is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). It may be acute and clear off without treatment, but some forms can be chronic, leading to cirrhosis and liver cancer.A GP in London can diagnose it.

HBV has become a major health concern worldwide,mainly because there were 887,000 deaths recorded around the world in 2015 due to the infection of this virus.

Most adults only experience hepatitis B as a short term condition that clears up without permanent damage. However, about 2 to 6% of adultswith the condition in the United States develop a chronic infection which can eventually lead to liver cancer. Also, about 90% of infants with HBV develop a chronic infection.

This article is written to teach you about HBV, including the mode of transmission, early symptoms and treatment.

Hepatitis B: what is it?

Hepatitis B is a condition affecting the liver that can cause it to inflame. A person with this infection can transmit the virus to another person even when they do not know it.

Some people do not have symptoms of the condition. Some others have the infection at the initial state before it resolves. However, others experience the infection to a chronic level. When it becomes chronic, the virus continues attacking the liver for a long time, and often without being detected. This continuous attack leads to irreversible damage to the liver.

Symptoms of hepatitis B

Many people have HBV infections during their infancy or childhood. This is because mothers can pass it to their children during childbirth. However, childhood HBV is rarely diagnosed by doctors because there are usually a few noticeable symptoms available.

A new hepatitis B infection symptoms may not be visible in children younger than 5 or in adults whose immune systems have been suppressed. For those between the ages of 5 and above, 30 to 50% will have initial symptoms and signs of the condition.

Acute symptoms of the condition start appearing between 60 to 150 days after being exposed to the virus – this lasts from some weeks to 6 months.

The most typical symptoms of a chronic HBV infection may be continuous episodes of aching joints, abdominal pain, and persistent fatigue.

Early symptoms of HBV

When patients have symptoms of HBV, they include:

  • Fever
  • Joint pain
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetites
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine
  • Stools with clay colour
  • Jaundice

How is hepatitis B transmitted?

HBV can be transmitted when the semen, blood, or other bodily fluids of an infected person enter the body of an uninfected person.

Most significantly, the infection occurs:

  • When a woman with Hepatitis B infection gives birth
  • Through sexual activity
  • Sharing of syringes, needles, and other devices for administering drugs
  • Practising unsafe techniques for tattoos
  • Sharing razors, toothbrushes, and other personal hygiene equipment

Being a health worker increases your risks when you practice unsafe medical practices like reusing medical equipment, failing to use your protection, or poorly disposing of sharp objects.

The following are ways through which HBV cannot be transmitted:

  • Through food or water
  • Breastfeeding
  • Sharing eating utensils
  • Holding of hands
  • Hugging
  • Kissing
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Insect bites

HBV can survive forseven days outside the body. During this time, a person (without an active vaccine) can still contract the infection if the virus gets into their body.

Can hepatitis B be cured?

Currently,hepatitis B has no cure, but taking the vaccine can keep you from contracting the infection when the virus gets into your body.

Chronic infections of HBV can be treated with antiviral medications. However, if the chronic HBV infection starts causing permanent liver damage, a liver transplant may be the only way to improve long term survival.

However, taking the vaccine and antiviral medications will make only very few people undergo a liver transplant.

Treatment for hepatitis B

There are no specific medications, cure, or treatment for acute HBV infection. And the supportive care given to each patient will depend on their symptoms.

Treatment for suspected exposure

When suspected that a person has been exposed to HBV, they can undergo a post-exposure “prophylaxis” protocol.

This includes taking the vaccine for HBV and hepatitis B immunoglobin (HBIG). Healthcare workers usually administer the prophylaxis after being exposed to the virus but before an acute infection develops.

Though this protocol will not cure an infection when it has already been developed, it can reduce one’s risk of having an acute infection.

Treatment of chronic infection of Hepatitis B

Antiviral medications are usually administered to people with chronic HBV infection. This medication does not cure a chronic HBV infection, but it prevents the replication of the virus and keeps it from progressing into advanced liver disease.

A chronic HBV infection can easily develop into cirrhosis or liver cancer quickly and without warning. If this person is not treated promptly in a recommended facility, cancer can become fatal within a few months of diagnosis.

Patients with chronic HBV infection should undergoa continuous ultrasound and medical evaluation of the liver every 6 to 12 months. This timely evaluation will help the doctor tell if the condition is getting worse or if the liver damage progresses.

Causes

The hepatitis B virus causes HBV and is usually present in the blood and bodily fluids. HBV can be transmitted through vaginal fluids, semen, and blood – it can be transmitted from mother to child through childbirth. Having sex without a barrier method and sharing needles also increases one’s risk.

People’s risks also increase when they visit a region where the infection is common.

People can transmit the infection when they do not have symptoms.

Diagnosis

People with a higher risk of HBV infection can be screened for the infection or complication that can arise from an undiagnosed HBV infection. If the infection is discovered, the patient will be assessed for liver damage.

Hepatitis B test

Doctors usually diagnose acute and chronic HBV infection through a blood test.

If the result of the test shows that you have HBV, the doctor may ask you to come for a follow-up blood test to confirm:

  • If the HBV infection has progressed to the acute or chronic stage
  • The risk of a liver damage
  • Whether or not the treatment is needed

Hepatitis B vs C

There are different types of hepatitis. HBV and hepatitis C (HCV) are available in both acute and chronic forms.

The differentiating factor between HBV and HCV is their mode of transmission from person to person. Though HCV can be transmitted through sexual activities, it is rare. HCV is mostly spread when infected blood contacts uninfected blood.

Hepatitis B in pregnancy

When a woman infected with HBV becomes pregnant, she can transmit it to her baby. This is why women should tell the doctor who delivers the baby that they are infected with HBV.

The baby should be given an HBV vaccine and HBIG within 12 to 24 hours after birth. This will drastically reduce the child’s risk of developing HBV.

It is safe for women to take the vaccine during pregnancy.

Risk factors

The risk of HBV is higher for the following:

  • Children born by HBV infected mothers
  • Sexual partners to HBV patients
  • People who have sexual intercourse without contraception or having more than one sexual partners
  • Men that have sex with men
  • People who take illicit drugs
  • People infected with HIV
  • Living with a person that has a chronic HBV infection
  • Safety and healthcare workers who are at risk of being exposed to contaminated body fluids or blood
  • Patients who is suffering form  haemodialysis, a type of kidney treatment
  • People who take immune system suppressing medications like chemotherapy, a cancer treatment
  • People in a region with a high number of HBV cases
  • Every pregnant woman

Prevention of Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B infection can be prevented by:

  • Using the appropriate protective equipment when working in a health facility or handling health emergencies
  • Not sharing needles and other sharp objects
  • Keeping to safe sexual practices
  • Using gloves to clean blood spills or dried blood with a 1:10 dilution of one part household bleach to ten parts water

Vaccine

Since 1982, the HBV vaccine has been available. The following people need to receive this vaccine:

  • Infants, children, and adolescents that have not been vaccinated before
  • Every healthcare worker
  • People that may be exposed to blood and products of blood during their work or treatment
  • People that are undergoing dialysis and patients who will receive solid organ transplants
  • Staff and residents of correctional facilities, community residences, and halfway houses
  • People inject drugs
  • People who living with a patient or sexual partners with chronic HBV infection
  • Who more than one sexual partner
  • Those who travel to countries with a high number of HBV cases

Schedule

The HBV vaccine comes in the form of three injections. The first injection can be taken at any age, but babies should be given the first injection soon after birth. The second shot will come at least one month after the first.

Adults will take the third dose 8 weeks after receiving the second and 16 weeks after taking the first. Infants should not be given the third dose until they become 24 weeks old.

How long does the Hepatitis B vaccine last?

The World Health Organisation says that the complete vaccine series increases the antibody levels in more than 95% of the adolescents, children and infants who receive it.

The HBV vaccine-induced immune memory can last for not less than 30 yearsin people with a healthy body. With this said, current studies on how long the vaccine can last are going on.

Side effects of the vaccine

Most people will tolerate the HBV vaccine well.

However, the commonest side effects of the HBV vaccine include soreness at the site of the injection and fever. Some people may also have redness, swelling, and hard skin in this area.

Though only on infrequent occasions, HBV infection can cause severe anaphylaxis, a type of allergic reaction.

Are there live viruses in it?

There are no live viruses in the HBV vaccine. This is why it is safe for pregnant women and lactating mothers.

Dangers of Hepatitis B

Some life-threatening complications can arise from HBV infection. They include:

  • Cirrhosis: This can cause the liver to scar and inhibit its function. This condition can lead to liver failure
  • Liver failure: This is mostly called the ‘end-stage liver disease’, which can progress quickly or with time. This makes the liver unable to function or replace the damaged cells.
  • Liver cancer: Having chronic HBV infection increases one’s risk of liver cancer.

HBV is a serious health concern worldwide, but most people can stay safe from the virus when they take the vaccine.

Which type of hepatitis is the most dangerous?

Hepatitis is available in 5 types: hepatitis A to E. All of them are dangerous and can lead to liver damage.

Some types of hepatitis, including A and E, can cause mostly short term infection, which the immune system will clear off. But other types, like hepatitis B, C, and D, can lead to acute and chronic infections.

The immune system cannot clear chronic hepatitis infection, which is why it progresses and leads to liver damage. This can cause severe complications like cirrhosis, liver failure, and probably, liver cancer.

You can prevent these potentially dangerous illnesses and complications from hepatitis by engaging all the proper preventive measures mentioned above and taking the vaccinations for hepatitis B and C.

Test for hepatitis by visiting a GP in London. To make an appointment to see our private GP at Private GPs London, visit our website.

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