Hepatitis B and Everything You Need to Know About This Vaccine-Preventable Disease

Introduction

Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HPV). There are two other types of hepatitis viruses: hepatitis A and hepatitis C. Hepatitis can cause liver inflammation. Hepatitis B is a curable disease that can be prevented with a vaccine. It can affect a person either for a few weeks, causing less damage or chronic infection, lifelong sickness. The seriousness of the contagion is defined by the spread of the virus in the liver. If the infection is widespread in the liver, it then causes chronic hepatitis or cirrhosis. WHO estimated that the African region is the highest infected area of hepatitis, with 6.2% of the population infected.

Cause and transmission

Hepatitis is transmitted through blood or semen. HBV can survive in the outer atmosphere for seven days. If the virus enters the body in these seven days, it will still damage the liver if the person is not vaccinated. The virus can enter a body through various means of transmission:

• Birth

When an infected woman gives birth to a child, the virus transmits to the child. However, the baby can be vaccinated, keeping them safe.

• Sexual contact

Unprotected sexual intercourse with an infected person can cause infection. The virus can enter the body through that person’s semen, blood, saliva, or vaginal secretions.

• Needle or razor contact

When old/unsterilized syringes or needles are shared between an infected and non-infected person, there is an exposure to blood transmission. In such cases, there are high chances of virus transmission.

• Open blood source

Accepting open-source blood or contact with infected blood also causes the transmission of the virus and leads to infection.

However, the virus cannot spread through air or water. It cannot be transmitted through breastfeeding, kissing, holding hands, or sneezing.

Symptoms

There are high chances (80%-90%) for a one-year-old child to get infected with chronic infections. The chances decrease as children age. A six-year-old has a 50%-60% chance of getting a chronic infection. An adult has only a 5% chance.

Most newly-infected people do not show any symptoms. A few show mild/chronic symptoms like:

• Fever

• Vomiting

• Yellowing of eyes

• Weight loss

• Dark urine

• Joint pains

• Fatigue

• Jaundice

Treatment and testing

The disease currently has no cure. However, getting vaccinated helps to fight it if the virus is transmitted. Hepatitis may get cured using antiviral medicines, but lead to other chronic infections. If the liver gets severely damaged by the virus, transplantation of the liver might help. A liver transplant improves the condition, but cannot eliminate the virus.

Doctors suggest the following people get tested for hepatitis B:

• Those traveling to common hepatitis B areas

• Those who have been in contact with someone with the disease

• Those who are pregnant

• Those who have had kidney dialysis

• Those who have used IV drugs

There are three types of tests, one for testing if you are contagious. If your results in the first test are positive, you should take the next tests. The first test is to check the severity of the virus and the following are to test the virus’s immunity.

Prevention

The virus is highly contagious. So once the virus enters the body, it is almost impossible to cure it. Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent it. Vaccines are recommended for those who have:

• Transmitted HIV or being treated for HIV or any other sexually transmitted disease

• Injection (IV) drug users

• Infants

• Unvaccinated children at birth

• Healthcare workers who are exposed to blood

Prevention is always better than needing a cure. Consult a doctor to help you understand Hepatitis B better and get further instructions.

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