Hepatitis B is a liver infection that a vaccine can prevent. It can spread by semen, blood, or other body fluids from an infected person to an uninfected person. This can happen through sharing needles, syringes, or other drug-injection equipment, sexual contact, or from mother to baby at birth. Hepatitis B can be a short-term illness or chronic long-term infection. It may also lead to severe, life-threatening conditions like liver cirrhosis or cancer. It is estimated that 257 million people are currently living with chronic hepatitis B, and two billion people have been infected worldwide.
What Is Hepatitis?
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. The liver serves many functions in the body, including detoxification, digestion, protection against infection, protein and hormone production, and many more. Heavy alcohol use, certain medications, toxins, and infections can cause hepatitis. Persistent hepatitis can lead to scarring of the liver called cirrhosis. Cirrhosis occurs when the liver has been severely damaged. A cirrhotic liver does not function and can result in complications such as bleeding from the esophagus and stomach, yellowing skin (jaundice), and fluid accumulation in the abdomen.
What Is Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is an infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis B virus. Many patients will have little or no symptoms when they get infected. They are fever, feeling tired, lack of appetite, upset stomach, vomiting, dark urine, grey-colored stool, joint pain, and yellow skin and eyes. Often, patients can have hepatitis B for many years without knowing they have it. Acute hepatitis B infection is a short-term infection lasting up to six months. When infection persists for over six months, it is called chronic hepatitis B. The younger people get infected, the more likely they will progress to chronic hepatitis. Up to 90 % of infants will develop chronic hepatitis B, while only 5 % of adults will develop chronic infection. Hepatitis B slowly damages the liver over decades, leading to cirrhosis and liver cancer. The virus exists worldwide.
How Is Hepatitis B Diagnosed?
Blood Test - Blood tests can detect the presence of antibodies, viral particles, or genetic material (deoxyribonucleic acid).
Ultrasound - A liver ultrasound is usually done to assess cirrhosis or signs of liver cancer.
Fibroscan - Often, a fibroscan is also performed. This is a specialized machine that measures the degree of fibrosis (scarring) in the liver.
How Is Hepatitis B Transmitted?
Many people do not know how they acquired hepatitis B. Worldwide, the most common method of getting the infection is when an infected mother passes the virus to her baby during childbirth. The virus is spread by contact with blood and sexual fluid. Before widespread screening of blood donors in the 1970s, hepatitis B was also spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants. Other methods of transmission are:
Sex with an infected person.
Sharing contaminated syringes or needles.
Baby born to infected mother.
Getting body piercings or tattoos done with improperly sanitized equipment.
Sharing toothbrushes, razors, or other things that could have blood on them.
Getting stuck with a sharp object that has contaminated blood on it.
Hepatitis B is not transmitted by kissing or hugging, sneezing or coughing, breastfeeding, skin-to-skin contact that does not involve blood, and sharing food and utensils.
How to Prevent Transmission of Disease To Other People?
Use a condom while having sexual intercourse.
Do not share razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers, or anything else that might have blood on it.
Do not share needles or syringes.
Cover cuts and open sores with bandages.
Ensure household members and close friends are vaccinated against hepatitis B.
Clean blood-contaminated surfaces with a mixture of water and bleach.
Who Should Get Tested for Hepatitis B?
All pregnant women.
Household and sexual contacts of people with hepatitis B.
People born in certain parts of the world have increased rates of hepatitis B, such as in Africa, Southeast Asia, Eastern Mediterranean, and Western Pacific.
People with certain medical conditions, including HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection, people who receive chemotherapy, and people on hemodialysis.
People who inject drugs.
Men who have sex with men.
How Can Hepatitis B Infection Be Prevented?
The best way to protect against hepatitis B is to get vaccinated. The vaccine consists of three doses given over six months and offers 95 % protection against infection. Anyone who is not immune should receive the vaccine.
Preventing Further Liver Damage - If a person has hepatitis B, it is essential to avoid other insults to the liver. Avoid heavy alcohol consumption and get vaccinated for hepatitis A. Check with your healthcare provider before starting any new medications to ensure they are safe for the liver. Sometimes your doctor will need to evaluate you for other liver diseases as well.
Is There a Cure for Hepatitis B?
No, unfortunately, there is currently no cure for hepatitis B. Once a person has been infected, the virus lives inside their liver forever.
What Are the Treatment Options for Hepatitis B?
Most people simply need regular monitoring with blood work and liver ultrasound every six months to ensure their liver remains healthy and that the virus stays under control. If the virus starts to cause symptoms or inflammation to the liver, medications can be used to stop the virus from reproducing in the body. Many people who start treatment remain on it for years or even lifelong. There is no treatment that actually removes the virus from the body. Treatment of hepatitis B should be overseen by a gastroenterologist, hepatologist, infectious disease specialist, or a physician experienced in the management of this condition.
What Should Be Done in if a Pregnant Women Is Infected With Hepatitis B?
A pregnant woman can still have a perfectly healthy baby even if she has been infected with hepatitis B. It is important to have regular monitoring of the hepatitis B virus during pregnancy to determine the risk of infection to the baby and whether there is inflammation of the liver. If the virus is at low levels, no special treatment is required. If the virus is at high levels or she is experiencing symptoms, treatment may be necessary. If a baby is born to an infected mother, they should receive hepatitis B immune globulin and the first dose of hepatitis B vaccine shortly after birth to prevent infection.
Can Hepatitis B Positive Mothers Breastfeed?
Yes, they can as long as their nipples are not cracked or bleeding and the baby has received hepatitis B immunoglobulin and the first dose of hepatitis B vaccine at birth.
Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Chronic hepatitis B may develop liver failure, liver cirrhosis, or cancer. A vaccine can prevent this infection, but there is no cure. Taking certain precautions can help prevent spreading the virus from an infected person to others.