Hepatitis B (HBV)

Hepatitis B is a potentially serious disease that attacks your liver. It is a viral infection similar to Hepatitis A and Hepatitis C. Unlike Hepatitis A, however, the Hepatitis B virus (HBV) has the potential to seriously damage your liver and can cause chronic illness and even death. About 1.25 million Americans are currently infected with Hepatitis B. 10% of those infected will develop chronic Hepatitis B, in which the virus can stay in the body for years. 15 to 25% of those infected with chronic Hepatitis B will die from liver disease. A Hepatitis B vaccine is now available to safeguard against this virus.

Type of Infection: Viral

Mode of Transmission: Person to person exchange of bodily fluids: unprotected vaginal, oral, and anal sex; infected pregnant mom to unborn child; sharing of contaminated drug needles; piercing the skin with contaminated tattoo or piercing needles; piercing the skin with contaminated medical or dental instruments; receiving contaminated blood or blood products; and receiving contaminated tissues or organs.

Symptoms: A large percentage of those infected with Hepatitis are unaware that they are infected. About 30% of those with Hepatitis B experience no symptoms. Others feel like they have just caught a common flu. Hepatitis B symptoms can include: yellowing of the skin or the whites of the eyes (jaundice); fatigue or extreme fatigue; loss of appetite; nausea and vomiting; abdominal pain; fever and chills; dark, tea-colored urine; and grey or clay-colored bowel movements. It typically takes 9 to 21 weeks from the time of transmission for symptoms of Hepatitis B to manifest. Hepatitis B signs and symptoms are more likely to occur in infected adults than in infected children. 1% of those infected with HBV will experience extreme side effects. This is known as fulminant hepatitis. Fulminant hepatitis requires immediate medical attention.

Treatment: There is no known cure for Hepatitis B. Most infections will clear up within a few months. Those chronically-infected can be treated using the following drugs: Interferon Alfa or Lamivudine. These drugs will not cure Hepatitis B but they can markedly slow down its development as well as decrease the chance of liver disease.

Complications: Those chronically-infected with HBV can develop severe liver disease or liver cancer. As liver cells die, they are replaced with scar tissue. This is known as cirrhosis. Cirrhosis prevents the liver from cleansing wastes produced within the body. This can lead to severe illness and even death. 15 to 25% of those chronically- infected with the Hepatitis B will die.

Consequences in Infants: Hepatitis B during pregnancyis highly infectious to fetuses and newborns. Mothers infected with Hepatitis B can transmit the disease to their child through the umbilical cord. Transmission cannot be prevented by cesarean section. Almost 90% of those newborns infected at birth will become chronic carriers of Hepatitis B, increasing their risk for developing liver disease and liver cancer. Pregnant women should have Hepatitis B testing as soon as possible. Those newborns infected with the disease should be given Hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG) and a first dose of the Hepatitis B vaccine within twelve hours of birth. A second dose of the Hepatitis B vaccine should be administered when the baby is 1 to 2 months old, and the third dose should be administered at six months.

Risk Factors: Those at risk of contracting Hepatitis B include: intravenous drug users; those who have multiple sex partners or who have unprotected sex; males that have sex with other males; infants born to infected mothers; individuals who get multiple piercings or tattoos; those who live or have close contact with a chronically-infected person; health care workers; staff and residents of correction facilities; hemophiliacs requiring blood products; those with kidney failure or who require dialysis; those traveling to areas where Hepatitis B is common (South America, Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, Pacific Islands, Middle East); those adopting children from areas where Hepatitis B is common; and children of immigrants who were born in areas where Hepatitis B is common.

Prevention: The best way to prevent the contraction of Hepatitis B is to get a Hepatitis vaccination. It is especially important to vaccinate newborns and infants. If vaccinated properly, you are protected for life against the disease. In order to prevent contraction of Hepatitis B abstain from sex with infected partners, and especially avoid anal sex where exchange of bodily fluids is likely. It is also important to minimize the number of sexual partners that you have. Though condoms have not been proven to safeguard against Hepatitis B, their proper use may reduce the risk of infection. Avoid sharing razors, toothbrushes, and other personal items with those around you. Check into all health practices before you get a tattoo or piercing. If you are a health or medical worker, ensure you follow the proper safety procedures when handling potentially infectious materials. If you already have Hepatitis B or have had it in the past, do not donate blood, tissues, or organs.

Research: Research into Hepatitis B and fighting chronic infections is ongoing. Currently, new advances have been made in the field of drug treatments for chronic carriers patients. The HIV drug, lamivudine, has shown great promise in effectively treating Hepatitis B, especially when combined with other existing Hepatitis B treatment. New research also suggests that the Hepatitis B virus can be killed with minimal damage to the liver. T-cells in the body can attack and kill Hepatitis B cells without harming the cells that make up the liver.


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