Hepatitis B is a very serious medical condition which affects the liver and is caused by a virus known as hepatitis B virus (HBV). It is one of the five types of viral hepatitis which are A, C, D and E. From these, Hepatitis B and C are most likely to become chronic. It can cause scarring of the liver, liver failure and even liver cancer in some cases.
In some patients, the virus can become acute or chronic and last for more than six months; whereas, in other patients, the virus may not cause major issues. The virus can spread among humans when people come in contact with the blood, open sores or body fluids of a person infected with the hepatitis B virus.
Infants who develop the virus at birth generally have the acute form of the condition and it generally does not go away. But for people who develop the condition as an adult, it should not last a long time because the body fights it off within a few months. A person, who has once been infected by the virus, will turn immune to it for the rest of life.
Symptoms of Hepatitis B
The signs of the virus can be mild or severe. These usually appear after one to four months of the person being infected with the virus. Some people might experience symptoms even after two weeks of being contacted with the virus. However, young children might not experience any symptoms at all.
Some common symptoms of Hepatitis B include:
- Abdominal pain
- Dark urine
- Extreme joint pain
- Loss of appetite
- Weakness and Fatigue
- Pale skin or yellowing of the skin with whitening of the eyes (also known as jaundice)
Causes of Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B is caused by the Hepatitis B virus (HBV). It can be passed on from one person to another through blood, semen or other body fluids. However, it does not spread via sneezing or coughing.
Some ways by which HBV can spread include:
- Sexual contact
- Sharing of needles
- Accidental needle usage
- Mother to child
Acute vs. Chronic Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B can be chronic or mild; similarly, depending on the intensity it is either short-lived or long-lasting.
Acute infection: This lasts less than six months and is usually treated by the body’s immune system. Most adults have an acute infection at first but it can easily develop into a chronic infection.
Chronic infection: This type of Hepatitis B lasts for more than six months. The infection lingers on because the body’s immune system cannot fight the infection. Chronic infection can last a lifetime and often cause serious illnesses such as cirrhosis and liver infection.
Younger children have higher chances of getting a chronic infection. Also, in case of an adult, the infection might go unnoticed even for years unless it becomes chronic and causes serious liver issues.
Complications of Hepatitis B
A long-term or chronic form of hepatitis B can cause severe complications such as:
Scarring of the liver: This is also known as cirrhosis and refers to a condition in which the inflammation associated with hepatitis B causes extensive scarring of the liver and ultimately impair the liver’s ability to function effectively.
Liver cancer: People who suffer from a chronic form of the hepatitis B infection are more likely to develop liver cancer, which can be fatal.
Liver failure: Acute liver failure refers to a condition in which the vital functions of the liver shut down completely and the patient requires a liver transplant to survive.
Other conditions: People who have chronic hepatitis B have more chances of developing a severe form of kidney disease or inflammation of the blood vessels.
Preventions of Hepatitis B
A hepatitis B vaccination which is administered to the person in three to four dosages over six months is very effective in preventing the infection. The vaccine is recommended for:
- Newborn babies
- Children and adults not vaccinated at birth
- People who share living space with an infected person
- A person with sexually transmitted infections such as HIV
- Healthcare professionals, emergency workers and other people who come in contact with blood
- Men who engage sexually with men
- People with multiple sex partners
- People with end-stage kidney problems
- People who take drug injections or share syringes and needles
- Sexual partners of people infected with the virus
- People who have a chronic liver problem
- Travellers who wish to visit areas with chronic hepatitis B infection
Diagnosis of Hepatitis B
Foremost, the doctor will check for signs of liver damage such as paleness of skin or acute belly pain. The analysis will be confirmed with some tests including blood tests, liver ultrasound, and liver biopsy.
Treatment of Hepatitis B
The form of treatment of the virus depends on the time of exposure and the type of infection. In case, a person has been exposed to the virus but has no preventive vaccine, a dosage of immunoglobulin (an antibody) administered within 12 hours of exposure can prevent the patient from getting sick. That said, this is only short-term protection, and the vaccination is the only way to get long-term security.
Treatment of acute infection involves proper nutrition, recommended amount of rest, and plenty of fluids to fight off the infection. In some cases, antiviral drugs or hospital stays are needed to prevent serious complications but in most cases, the infection goes on its own.
Treatment for chronic hepatitis B infections involves treatment for the rest of life. It helps to reduce the risk of liver damage or serious liver disease, while prevents the person from passing the infection to others. Treatment for chronic hepatitis B includes:
- Antiviral medications
- Interferon injections
- Liver transplant
Hepatitis B can become a serious problem if the infection is not diagnosed and treated early. However, in cases where the infection is mild, mere precautions, preventive vaccines and care can help manage the problem and minimize symptoms.