What is Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is a viral infection affecting the liver that is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). There are two forms of hepatitis B infection: acute and chronic. Acute hepatitis B usually lasts up to 6 months and is mainly seen in adults. Chronic hepatitis B lasts longe-rand can develop in children below the age of 5 as well as in certain adults. There are usually no immediate symptoms, but those infected cancarry the virus in their bodies for the rest of their lives and are referred to as carriers.
Causes of Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B infection is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV) and is transmissible by blood, semen or other body fluids. It is not spread by sneezing or coughing.
Common ways that Hepatitis B virus can spread include:
- Sexual or intimate contact
- Sharing of needles
- Accidental needle sticks
- Transfer from mother to baby during birth
Symptoms of Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B signs and symptoms may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Dark urine
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weakness and fatigue
- Joint and muscle pain
Diagnosis of Hepatitis B
The doctor will assess the symptoms and perform a physical examination.
The diagnostic tests include:
- Blood tests: Detects the virus and antibodies produced.
- Liver function test: Determines the health of your liver; a high liver enzyme count-can indicate damaged liver tissue.
- Abdominal ultrasound: Uses ultrasound waves to create images of internal abdo-minal organs.
- Biopsy: A small piece of liver tissue is extracted and observed for the presence of the disease.
Some forms of hepatitis virus may harm the liver without causing signs or symptoms.
Screening for hepatitis B may be suggested for individuals who:
- Are pregnant
- Have multiple sex partners
- Have a history of a sexually transmitted disease (STDs)
- Receive kidney dialysis
- Take immune-suppressing medications
- Inject recreational drugs
- Have abnormal liver function test results
- Have been adopted from a place where hepatitis is common
Treatment for Hepatitis B
Acute hepatitis B infection may be treated with rest, proper nutrition and plenty of fluids. Patients with acute hepatitis B may recover fully within 6 months. In some cases, antiviral medications and a hospital stay may be necessary to prevent complications. Chronic hepatitis B patients may require treatment for the rest of their lives which may require antiviral medications, interferon injections, or a liver transplant in cases of severe liver damage.
Prevention of Hepatitis B
The hepatitis B vaccine is an ideal way to prevent infection. Vaccination is highly recom-mended for:
- Newborn children
- Children and adolescents not vaccinated at birth
- People staying with someone who has hepatitis B
- Health care workers and other people who come into contact with blood
- People who have multiple sexual partners
- People who share needles and syringes
- People with chronic liver disease
- People with end-stage kidney disease
- Travelers planning to go to a high hepatitis B infection area
- Peoplewith sexually transmitted infections
Conventional wisdom is that everyone should receive the hepatitis B vaccine. It is rela-tively inexpensive and very safe.
Other ways to reduce the risk of hepatitis B include:
- Knowing the HBV status of a sexual partner
- Avoiding drug use
- Choosing tattoo and piercing parlors licensed by health departments
- When traveling internationally, checking whether the destination has a high incidence of hepatitis B and thus ensuring you are fully vaccinated prior to travel.