Hepatitis B

Morgan Key

Overview

Discovered in 1965, Hepatitis B is a virus that effects the liver. There are two types of Hepatitis B: acute and chronic. The difference between acute Hepatitis B and chronic Hepatitis B is that acute is short-term and chronic Hepatitis B is long-term. Hepatitis B can cause scarring of the organ, liver failure, and cancer.

Causes

The virus is spread when blood, semen, and vaginal fluids (including menstrual blood) from an infected person enters another person’s body. The many different ways this disease can be transmitted are through sexual contact, sharing of needles for drugs, child birth, and toiletries (sharing of razors with body fluids on them). Most children who get acute Hepatitis B develop chronic Hepatitis B because it is considered "silent". This it is not usually diagnosed because there are rarely any symptoms.

Incidence

Yearly, 400 million people are chronically infected with Hepatitis B. Most healthy adults (90%) who are infected will recover and develop protective antibodies against future hepatitis B infections. A small number (5-10%) will be unable to get rid of the virus and will develop chronic infections. Unfortunately, this is not true for infants and young children – 90% of infants and up to 50% of young children infected with hepatitis B will develop chronic infections. Therefore, vaccination is essential to protect infants and children. The vaccine is 95% effective in preventing the disease.

Signs and Symptoms

The symptoms of Hepatitis B range from mild to severe. They are much like the symptoms of the flu and do not usually occur until about four months after one is infected, which is why Hepatitis B is not noticed and diagnosed early. The symptoms include abdominal pain, dark urine, fever, joint pain, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, weakness and fatigue, and jaundice.
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Treatment

Depending on the type of Hepatitis B you have, treatment can vary. If you have acute Hepatitis B, the virus will eventually go away on its own. Although, if you have chronic Hepatitis B, you have three options, depending on how far the virus has spread through the liver: 1. antiviral medications can help reduce or slow the ability of the virus to affect your liver (Hepsera). 2. interferon alfa 2b: a synthetic version of a substance produced by the body to fight the infection. 3. liver transplant. There is no cure.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis of Hepatitis B is preformed by blood tests. There are three different types of blood tests that are used when diagnosing Hepatitis B:
  • HBsAg (hepatitis B surface antigen) - This refers to the outer surface of the hepatitis B virus that triggers an antibody response. A "positive" or "reactive" HBsAg test result means that the person is infected with the hepatitis B virus. This can be an "acute" or a "chronic" infection. Infected people can pass the virus on to others through their blood.

  • HBsAb or anti-HBs (hepatitis B surface antibody) - This refers to the protective antibody that is produced in response to an infection. It appears when a person has recovered from an acute infection and cleared the virus (usually within six months) or responded successfully to the hepatitis B vaccine shots. A "positive" or "reactive" HBsAb (or anti-HBs) test result indicates that a person is "immune" to any future hepatitis B infection and is no longer contagious. This test is not routinely included in blood bank screenings.

  • HBcAb or anti-HBc (hepatitis B core antibody) - This refers to an antibody that is produced in response to the core-antigen, a component of the hepatitis B virus. However, this is not a protective antibody. In fact, it is usually present in those chronically infected with hepatitis B. A "positive" or "reactive" HBcAb (or anti-HBc) test result indicates a past or present infection, but it could also be a false positive.
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Prevention

Prevention of Hepatitis B can be very simple or it can be complicated. The best and most recommended way to prevent this disease is by receiving the vaccination. Although, if the vaccination is not received, one must be very cautious when journeying through life avoiding all types of causes of Hepatitis B listed above.