20 Dec What is Hepatitis B and how is it spread?
Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by the Hepatitis B virus (HBV). For some people, hepatitis B is an acute, or short-term illness, but for others – it can become a long-term, chronic infection. Chronic Hepatitis B can lead to serious health issues, like cirrhosis or liver cancer. The condition can be self-limiting or can progress to fibrosis (scarring), cirrhosis or liver cancer. Hepatitis viruses are the most common cause of hepatitis in the world but other infections, toxic substances (e.g. alcohol, certain drugs), and autoimmune diseases can also cause hepatitis.
Hepatitis B is spread when blood, semen, or other body fluid infected with the Hepatitis B virus enters the body of a person who is not infected. People can become infected with the virus during activities such as:
- Birth (spread from an infected mother to her baby during birth)
- Sex with an infected partner
- Sharing needles, syringes, or other drug-injection equipment
- Sharing items such as razors or toothbrushes with an infected person
- Direct contact with the blood or open sores of an infected person
- Exposure to blood from needlesticks or other sharp instruments
Among adults in the United States, sexual contact accounts for nearly two-thirds of acute Hepatitis B cases. In fact, Hepatitis B is 50–100 times more infectious than HIV and can be passed through the exchange of body fluids, such as semen, vaginal fluids, and blood.
Are you at risk for Hepatitis B?
Anyone can get Hepatitis B, however, some people are at greater risk, such as those who:
- Have sex with an infected person
- Have multiple sex partners
- Have a sexually transmitted disease
- Are men who have sexual contact with other men
- Inject drugs or share needles, syringes, or other drug equipment
- Live with a person who has chronic Hepatitis B
- Are infants born to infected mothers
- Are exposed to blood on the job
- Are hemodialysis patients
- Travel to countries with moderate to high rates of Hepatitis B
Many people with chronic Hepatitis B virus infection do not know they are infected since they do not feel or look sick. However, they still can spread the virus to others and are at risk of serious health problems themselves.
How to avoid getting Hepatitis B
The best way to prevent Hepatitis B is by getting the Hepatitis B vaccine. The Hepatitis B vaccine is safe and effective and is usually given as 3-4 shots over a 6-month period.
Hepatitis B vaccination is recommended for:
- People whose sex partners have Hepatitis B
- Sexually active persons who are not in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship.
- Persons seeking evaluation or treatment for a sexually transmitted disease
- Men who have sexual contact with other men
- People with HIV infection
- People who share needles, syringes, or other drug-injection equipment
- People who have close household contact with someone infected with the Hepatitis B virus
- Health care and public safety workers at risk for exposure to blood or blood-contaminated body fluids on the job
- People with end-stage renal disease, including predialysis, hemodialysis, peritoneal dialysis, and home dialysis patients
- Residents and staff of facilities for developmentally disabled persons
- Travelers to regions with moderate or high rates of Hepatitis B
- People with chronic liver disease
- All infants, starting with the first dose of Hepatitis B vaccine at birth
- All children and adolescents younger than 19 years of age who have not been vaccinated
- Anyone who wishes to be protected from Hepatitis B virus infection
What are the symptoms of Hepatitis B?
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 can be either “acute” or “chronic.”
Acute Hepatitis B virus infection is a short-term illness that occurs within the first 6 months after someone is exposed to the Hepatitis B virus. Acute infection can — but does not always — lead to chronic infection.
On average, symptoms appear 90 days (or 3 months) after exposure, but they can appear any time between 6 weeks and 6 months after exposure. Symptoms usually last a few weeks, but some people can be ill for as long as 6 months. Many people with Hepatitis B have no symptoms, but these people can still spread the virus.
Symptoms of acute Hepatitis B, if they appear, can include:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Dark urine
- Clay-colored bowel movements
- Joint pain
- Jaundice (yellow color in the skin or the eyes)
Chronic Hepatitis B virus infection is a long-term illness that occurs when the Hepatitis B virus remains in a person’s body. Some people with chronic Hepatitis B have ongoing symptoms similar to acute Hepatitis B. However most individuals with chronic Hepatitis B remain symptom free for as long as 20 or 30 years. About 15%–25% of people with chronic Hepatitis B develop serious liver conditions, such as cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) or liver cancer. Even as the liver becomes diseased, some people still do not have symptoms, although certain blood tests for liver function might begin to show some abnormalities.
When to Get Tested for Hepatitis B
If you are concerned that you might have been exposed to the Hepatitis B virus, call your health professional or your health department. If a person who has been exposed to Hepatitis B virus gets the Hepatitis B vaccine and/or a shot called “HBIG” (Hepatitis B immune globulin) within 24 hours, Hepatitis B infection may be prevented.
How Testing is Done for Hepatitis B
Since many people with Hepatitis B do not have symptoms, doctors diagnose the disease by one or more blood tests. These tests look for the presence of antibodies or antigens and can help determine whether you:
- have acute or chronic infection
- have recovered from infection
- are immune to Hepatitis B
- could benefit from vaccination
How is Acute Hepatitis B Treated?
There is no medication available to treat acute Hepatitis B. During this short-term infection, doctors usually recommend rest, adequate nutrition, and fluids, although some people may need to be hospitalized.
How is Chronic Hepatitis B Treated?
It depends. People with chronic Hepatitis B virus infection should seek the care or consultation of a doctor with experience treating Hepatitis B.
People with chronic Hepatitis B should be monitored regularly for signs of liver disease and evaluated for possible treatment. Several medications have been approved for Hepatitis B treatment, and new drugs are in development. However, not every person with chronic Hepatitis B needs to be on medication, and the drugs may cause side effects in some patients.
How Serious is Chronic Hepatitis B?
Chronic Hepatitis B is a serious disease that can result in long-term health problems, including liver damage, liver failure, liver cancer, or even death. Approximately 2,000–4,000 people die every year from Hepatitis B-related liver disease.
Need to know more about viral hepatitis prevention or treatment, walk-in (1695 N. Sunrise Way at Vista Chino in Palm Springs) or schedule an appointment (760-992-0492) at The DOCK Clinic. At The DOCK, they’re ready to assist you quickly and confidentially with the information, testing and treatment you need.