What is Hepatitis B (HBV)?
Hepatitis B (HBV) is a potentially life-threatening liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus.
This is one of the five types of viral hepatitis. The others are Hepatitis A, C, D, and E. The types B and C are most likely to become chronic.
Hepatitis B infection is a major global health problem. It can cause liver cirrhosis and liver cancer leading to death.
A vaccine available since 1982 is 95% effective in preventing infection and the development of chronic disease and liver cancer due to hepatitis B.
Newborn infants and children between the ages of 1 and 5 years are at a higher risk of infection from hepatitis B and it usually turns chronic. The risk drops to 6%–10% when a person is infected over 5 years of age.
The likelihood depends upon the age at which someone becomes infected. The younger a person is when infected with Hepatitis B virus, the greater his or her chance of developing chronic Hepatitis B. The risk goes down as a child gets older.
How does Hepatitis B (HBV) occur?
Hepatitis B is a contagious liver disease that ranges in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness. It results from infection with the Hepatitis B virus.
Hepatitis B is a DNA virus that integrates into the chromosomes of an individual. This virus is particularly dangerous because it can infect people without them being aware of it, and, these infected people in turn, can unknowingly pass the virus to others.
Hepatitis B can be acute or chronic.
- Acute Hepatitis B virus infection starts within the first 6 months after someone is exposed to the Hepatitis B virus. It is a short-term illness and may lead to chronic infection though not in all the cases.
- Chronic Hepatitis B virus infection is a long-term illness as the Hepatitis B virus lingers in a person’s body for a long time. In these cases, people remain chronically infected with the virus past the initial infection period. In these patients, the virus can continuously attack the liver over time without being detected, causing potentially irreversible liver damage.
Who is prone to Hepatitis B (HBV)?
Some people are more prone to Hepatitis B, such as:
- infants born to infected mothers
- sex partners of infected persons
- people with multiple sex partners
- people with sexually transmitted diseases
- hemodialysis patients
What are the causes of Hepatitis B (HBV)?
Some common causes of Hepatitis B transmission include:
- Sexual contact: Having unprotected sex with an infected partner whose blood, saliva, semen or vaginal secretions enter your body.
- Using contaminated needles: Hepatitis B is transmitted if a needle used on an infected person is reused by another. People addicted to intravenous drugs are at a risk of Hepatitis B.
- Mother to child: Pregnant women who are infected with Hepatitis B can pass on the infection to their babies. This can, however, be prevented if the newborn baby is vaccinated.
- Using unsterilised equipment: Having a tattoo, body piercing, or medical or dental treatment done in an unhygienic environment with unsterilised equipment.
- Blood transfusion: Hepatitis B can be transmitted through a blood transfusion when infected blood which is not tested is donated to someone.
- Sharing contaminated personal articles: Sharing toothbrushes or razors contaminated with infected blood can transmit Hepatitis B.
- Blood from an infected person contaminates open wound: When the blood of an infected person enters into another person’s open wound.
Hepatitis B cannot spread through:
- holding hands
- sharing crockery
What are the symptoms of Hepatitis B (HBV)? How is Hepatitis B (HBV) diagnosed?
The most common symptoms of hepatitis B include:
- loss of appetite
- nausea and vomiting
- general aches and pains
- a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above
- a general sense of feeling unwell
- itching all over the body
- pain over the location of the liver, just under the lower rib cage
- dark coloured urine
- pale or grey coloured stools
If the doctor suspects that you may have Hepatitis B, he will ask you to get blood tests done that can determine if you have the virus in your system and whether it's acute or chronic. He may also suggest a liver biopsy for which a small sample of your liver will be removed to test and determine whether you have liver damage. During this test, your doctor inserts a thin needle through your skin and into your liver and removes a tissue sample for laboratory analysis.
What are the complications of Hepatitis B (HBV)?
Hepatitis B can lead to serious complications such as:
- Liver cirrhosis or scarring of the liver which may impair the liver's ability to function.
- Liver cancer
- Liver failure which occurs when the vital functions of the liver shut down. In this case, a liver transplant is needed.
- Glomerulonephritis which is a group of diseases that injure the part of the kidney that filters blood.
- Cryoglobulinemia which is part of a group of diseases that cause damage and inflammation of the blood vessels throughout the body.
- Hepatic Encephalopathy is a group of neuropsychiatric abnormalities in patients with liver dysfunction.
- Inflammation of blood vessels or anemia.
- Portal hypertension which is an increase in the blood pressure within a system of veins called the portal venous system.
- Porphyria is a group of diseases in which substances called porphyrins build up, affecting the skin or nervous system.
- Viral Co-Infection which is simultaneous infection by multiple viruses.
What is the treatment of Hepatitis B (HBV)?
Treatment of Hepatitis B entirely depends on the severity of your condition. It depends on how active the virus is in your body and the extent of your liver damage. The goal of treatment is to keep the virus from multiplying and to stop liver damage.
Depending on your condition you may be prescribed antiviral medicine by the doctor. Though, anti-viral medicines are not given in all cases.
Frequent tests may be done to ensure that the virus is not multiplying in your liver. Follow-up visits to your doctor is a must.
If your liver damage is at an advanced stage the doctor may advise you to undergo a liver transplant, though not everyone is a good candidate for liver transplant.
Questions answered by trusted doctors
Did you know?
Children are prone to developing chronic HPV
Approximately 25%–50% of children infected between the ages of 1 and 5 years will develop chronic hepatitis.
HPV more common among infants
Worldwide, most people with chronic Hepatitis B were infected at birth or during early childhood.
India is home to a large number of HPV patients in the world
India has over 40 million Hepatitis B infected patients, second only to China, and most people with chronic Hepatitis B or C are unaware of their infection, putting them at serious risk of developing cirrhosis or liver cancer which are life threatening.
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