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Hepatitis B - Common Questions Answered

Published on Jul 31, 2021   -  4 min read

Abstract

Hepatitis B is an infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis B virus. It is estimated that 257 million people are currently living with chronic hepatitis B, and 2 billion people have been infected worldwide. Please read the article to know more.

Contents
Hepatitis B - Common Questions Answered

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 of the 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 6 months. When infection persists for over 6 months, it is called chronic hepatitis B.

The younger that 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, which can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer. The virus exists worldwide.

How Is Hepatitis B Diagnosed?

  1. A blood test diagnoses hepatitis B. Blood tests can detect the presence of antibodies, viral particles, or genetic material (DNA).

  2. A liver ultrasound is usually done to assess for cirrhosis or signs of liver cancer.

  3. Often, a FibroScan is also performed. This is a specialized machine that measures the degree of fibrosis (scarring) in your 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:

  1. Sex with an infected person.

  2. Sharing contaminated equipment for injection drug use. Baby born to infected mother.

  3. Getting body piercings or tattoos done with improperly sanitized equipment.

  4. Sharing toothbrushes, razors, or other things that could have blood on them.

  5. Getting stuck with a sharp object that has contaminated blood on it.

  6. 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 Do I Avoid Giving The Disease To Other People?

  1. Use a condom when you have sexual intercourse.

  2. Do not share razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers, or anything else that might have blood on it.

  3. Do not share needles or syringes.

  4. Cover cuts and open sores with bandages.

  5. Ensure household members and close friends are vaccinated against hepatitis B.

  6. Clean blood-contaminated surfaces with a mixture of water and bleach.

Who Should Get Tested for Hepatitis B?

  1. All pregnant women.

  2. Household and sexual contacts of people with hepatitis B.

  3. 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.

  4. People with certain medical conditions, including HIV infection, people who receive chemotherapy, and people on hemodialysis.

  5. People who inject drugs.

  6. 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 3 doses given over 6 months and offers 95% protection against infection. Anyone who is not immune should receive the vaccine.

Preventing Further Liver Damage - If you have hepatitis B, it is essential to avoid other insults to your 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 your 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 you have been infected, the virus lives inside your liver forever.

How is Hepatitis B Treated?

Most people simply need regular monitoring with blood work and liver ultrasound every 6 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 your body. Many people who start treatment remain on it for years or even lifelong. There is no treatment that actually removes the virus from your 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.

If I Am Pregnant and I Have Hepatitis B, What Should I Do?

You can still have a perfectly healthy baby even if you have hepatitis B. It is important to have regular monitoring of the hepatitis B virus during pregnancy to determine the risk of infection to your baby and whether there is inflammation to your liver. If the virus is at low levels, no special treatment is required. If the virus is at high levels or you are experiencing symptoms, then treatment may be required. If a baby is born to an infected mother, he or she should receive hepatitis B immune globulin and the first dose of hepatitis B vaccine shortly after birth to prevent infection.

Can I Breastfeed If I Am Infected with Hepatitis B?

Yes, you can as long as your nipples are not cracked or bleeding and the baby has received hepatitis B immune globulin and the first dose of hepatitis B vaccine at birth.

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Last reviewed at:
31 Jul 2021  -  4 min read

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