Hepatitis B

A serious liver condition caused by the Hepatitis B virus is known as Hepatitis B or Hep B. It is usually seen in the people falling in the age group of 20 to 49 years. Statistics available with the CDC has shown that the number of people contracting Hepatitis B has gone down considerably from 200,000/year in the 1980s to 43,000/year in 2007.

If the condition lasts for more than 6 months, it is known as chronic Hepatitis B infection. It puts the person at risk of developing conditions like liver failure, liver cancer and cirrhosis, where there is permanent scarring of the liver. Currently there are 1.25 million people who are Hepatitis B virus carriers in the United States alone.

What Are the Symptoms & Complications of Hepatitis B?

Once the Hepatitis B virus infects the body, the person may remain asymptomatic, or feel sick for a period of few days or weeks. In case the person becomes ill rapidly, it is termed as fulminant Hepatitis.

Sometimes the patient may remain asymptomatic for as long as 6 months. The initial symptoms can be as follows:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue and low grade fever
  • Pain in the muscles and joint aches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Yellowing of the skin and dark urine

When the body fights off the infection, the symptoms can go away. However, if they persist, it is because the person has chronic Hep B. A person with chronic Hepatitis B can remain asymptomatic and need not be aware of the presence of the infection. Even in this scenario they can pass the infection to others. Such people can develop symptoms of liver failure or cirrhosis over a period of time.

Complications

The complications of Hepatitis B are:

  • Cirrhosis. In this condition there is extensive scarring of the liver tissue which impairs the normal functioning of the liver.
  • Liver Cancer. The risk of getting liver cancer is very high in such patients.
  • Liver failure. The liver functions shut down in case of acute liver failure and a transplant will be required.
  • The person will be at risk of developing conditions like anemia, kidney disease and inflammation of blood vessels.

When to See a Doctor

The doctor should be contacted in case the following symptoms are noticed:

  • Nausea and vomiting for over 2 days
  • High fever or fever that lasts for more than 2 days
  • Inability to keep liquids, vomiting them as well
  • Yellowing of skin and white of the eyes
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Dark urine (tea or cola colored)

If the person seems confused or is in delirium, they should be taken to emergency care. The doctor should also be informed if one have been exposed to the virus. In case an infected person becomes pregnant or a pregnant person is exposed to the virus, they should consult the doctor immediately.

What Are the Causes & Risk Factors of Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is caused when the HBV passes from person to person via blood, semen or other body fluids. Its common transferring modes are:

  • Sexual contact: unprotected sex with an infected person can cause Hep B via blood, saliva, semen and vaginal secretions.
  • Reusing needles: if needles, syringes and IV drug material contaminated by HBV is reused.
  • Accidental: health care workers and others who come in contact with infected blood are at risk from accidental pricks and fluid exchange.
  • Pregnancy: pregnant infected women can transfer the virus to the baby during childbirth. However, the baby can be vaccinated to prevent infection.

Risk Factors

Since Hepatitis B is transmitted via body fluids, the risk of contracting the infection increases in the following cases:

  • Have unprotected sex with multiple partners or person infected with Hep B
  • Have homosexual relations
  • Use and share needles and IVs
  • Born to a Hepatitis B infected mother
  • Are living with someone with chronic Hepatitis B
  • Work in a field which has exposure to human blood
  • Travelling to places like Africa, Central & Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe which have high Hepatitis B infection rates

What Are the Treatments for Hepatitis B?

Within two weeks of exposure to Hepatitis B, you can get yourself vaccinated and also get an injection of Hepatitis immune globulin, which helps in fighting off the infection.

If the symptoms start appearing, it is important to take bed rest and not consume anything which can harm the liver. This includes alcohol, acetaminophen, herbal remedies or supplements which worsen the liver damage.

For chronic active Hepatitis B, the doctor usually prescribes aggressive treatment, if the patient is an inactive carrier, he is kept under observation.

The following medications or treatments are prescribed for people with chronic Hepatitis B:

  • Interferon. This is responsible for boosting the immune system and needs to be administered for 6 months. It improves the liver inflammation, but does not cure the disease. Some side effects of the drug are malaise, depression, loss of appetite and it also lowers the WBC count.
  • Epivir. This is prescribed to be taken once a day and is well tolerated. Long term use can result in viral mutations.
  • Hepsera. When Epivir does not work, this medicine is prescribed. It can causes kidney problems in high doses.

How to Live with Hepatitis B

The first thing to that can be done is to learn about Hepatitis B. Having a short note on Hepatitis B from the CDC can be helpful. Since it does not spread via casual contact, keep in touch with family and friends. Ensure that you have a healthy diet, exercise daily and get adequate sleep. Avoid substances which can harm the liver and get vaccinated and test for Hepatitis A.

How to Prevent Hepatitis B

  • Anyone who is at high risk should get the Hepatitis B vaccination
  • Babies should get the vaccine at birth and remaining 3 shots within 6 months
  • Anyone below 19 years of age and not vaccinated should get a ‘catch-up’ dose
  • Healthcare workers and people living with Hep B patients should get vaccinated
  • Babies born with Hep B positive mothers should get the vaccine within 12 hours of being born
  • Avoid contact with blood and body fluids of person infected with Hep B
  • Get vaccinated or shot of HBIG within 24 hours of exposure to avoid infection
 
 
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