Hepatitis B is a serious liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). For some people, hepatitis B infection becomes chronic, meaning it lasts more than six months. Having chronic hepatitis B increases your risk of developing liver failure, liver cancer or cirrhosis.
Signs and symptoms of hepatitis B range from mild to severe. They usually appear about one to four months after you’ve been infected, although you could see them as early as two weeks post-infection.
Hepatitis B signs and symptoms may include:
● Abdominal pain
● Dark urine
● Joint pain
● Loss of appetite
● Nausea and vomiting
● Weakness and fatigue
● Yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
Hepatitis B infection is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). The virus is passed from person to person through blood, semen or other body fluids. It does not spread by sneezing or coughing.
Common ways that HBV can spread are:
- Sexual contact: You may get hepatitis B if you have unprotected sex with someone who is infected. The virus can pass to you if the person’s blood, saliva, semen or vaginal secretions enter your body.
- Sharing of needles: HBV easily spreads through needles and syringes contaminated with infected blood. Sharing IV drug paraphernalia puts you at high risk of hepatitis B. Accidental needle sticks. Hepatitis B is a concern for health care workers and anyone else who comes in contact with human blood.
- Mother to child: Pregnant women infected with HBV can pass the virus to their babies during childbirth. However, the newborn can be vaccinated to avoid getting infected in almost all cases.
ACUTE VS. CHRONIC HEPATITIS B:
Acute hepatitis B infection lasts less than six months. Your immune system likely can clear acute hepatitis B from your body, and you should recover completely within a few months. Most people who get hepatitis B as adults have an acute infection, but it can lead to chronic infection.
Chronic hepatitis B infection lasts six months or longer. It lingers because your immune system can’t fight off the infection. Chronic hepatitis B infection may last a lifetime, possibly leading to serious illnesses such as cirrhosis and liver cancer.
The hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for:
● Children and adolescents not vaccinated at birth
● Those who work or live in a center for people who are developmentally disabled
● People who live with someone who has hepatitis B
● Health care workers, emergency workers and other people who come into contact with blood
● Anyone who has a sexually transmitted infection, including HIV
● Men who have sex with men
● People who have multiple sexual partners
● Sexual partners of someone who has hepatitis B
● People who inject illegal drugs or share needles and syringes
● People with chronic liver disease
● People with end-stage kidney disease
● Travelers planning to go to an area of the world with a high hepatitis B infection rate
● Take precautions to avoid HBV
Other ways to reduce your risk of HBV include:
Know the HBV status of any sexual partner. Don’t engage in unprotected sex unless you’re absolutely certain your partner isn’t infected with HBV or any other sexually transmitted infection.
Use a new latex or polyurethane condom every time you have sex if you don’t know the health status of your partner. Remember that although condoms can reduce your risk of contracting HBV, they don’t eliminate the risk.
Don’t use illegal drugs. If you use illicit drugs, get help to stop. If you can’t stop, use a sterile needle each time you inject illicit drugs. Never share needles.
Be cautious about body piercing and tattooing. If you get a piercing or tattoo, look for a reputable shop. Ask about how the equipment is cleaned. Make sure the employees use sterile needles. If you can’t get answers, look for another shop.
Ask about the hepatitis B vaccine before you travel. If you’re traveling to a region where hepatitis B is common, ask your doctor about the hepatitis B vaccine in advance. It’s usually given in a series of three injections over a six-month period.
Your doctor will examine you and look for signs of liver damage, such as yellowing skin or belly pain. Tests that can help diagnose hepatitis B or its complications are:
Blood tests. Blood tests can detect signs of the hepatitis B virus in your body and tell your doctor whether it’s acute or chronic. A simple blood test can also determine if you’re immune to the condition.
Liver ultrasound. A special ultrasound called transient elastography can show the amount of liver damage.
Liver biopsy. Your doctor might remove a small sample of your liver for testing (liver biopsy) to check for 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.
Treatment to prevent hepatitis B infection after exposurel. If you know you’ve been exposed to the hepatitis B virus and aren’t sure if you’ve been vaccinated, call your doctor immediately. An injection of immunoglobulin (an antibody) given within 12 hours of exposure to the virus may help protect you from getting sick with hepatitis B. Because this treatment only provides short-term protection, you also should get the hepatitis B vaccine at the same time, if you never received it.
Treatment for acute hepatitis B infection
If your doctor determines your hepatitis B infection is acute — meaning it is short-lived and will go away on its own — you may not need treatment. Instead, your doctor might recommend rest, proper nutrition and plenty of fluids while your body fights the infection. In severe cases, antiviral drugs or a hospital stay is needed to prevent complications.
Treatment for chronic hepatitis B infection
Most people diagnosed with chronic hepatitis B infection need treatment for the rest of their lives. Treatment helps reduce the risk of liver disease and prevents you from passing the infection to others.
Treatment for chronic hepatitis B may include:
● Interferon alfa-2b (Intron A)
● Liver transplant. If your liver has been severely damaged, a liver transplant may be an option. During a liver transplant, the surgeon removes your damaged liver and replaces it with a healthy liver.
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