Hepatitis B – preventable and treatable

November 12, 2012

Hepatitis B – preventable and treatable

There are many myths surrounding hepatitis B mainly due to widespread ignorance about the condition, its symptoms, transmission and cause. Raising awareness of the disease should enable those who are infected to seek treatment, remove any social stigma attached to the disease and reduce the rate of infection.

What is hepatitis?

The word hepatitis simply means inflammation of liver and is generally used to identify a group of viral liver infections. Hepatitis B is the only strand of the virus which has a vaccination available to offer protection and, along with hepatitis A and C, is the most common strand of the disease.

Incidence of hepatitis B are increasing worldwide, this serious infection can, if left untreated, cause permanent liver damage and premature death. The effects of hepatitis B can be greatly reduced by the correct implementation of monitoring and treatment as well as educating the wider population in prevention and protection methods.

De-bunking the myths

Dealing with the myths surrounding any disease does much to reduce anxieties and social stigma and certainly the many myths around the transmission of hepatitis B should be clearly discredited, the facts concerning transmission of the virus include the following –

  • Hepatitis B cannot be transmitted through water or food

  • Sharing utensils and drinking vessels will not spread the virus

  • The hepatitis virus cannot be caught by hugging, kissing or touching an infected individual

  • The virus is not distributed via coughing, sneezing or casual contact

  • Hepatitis B is not transmitted via breast milk – breastfeeding is always the best choice for a baby

  • There is no need, or point, in excluding infected individuals from social situations or activities, nor is there any need, or point, in distancing oneself from anyone who is infected.

  • As can be seen from this list the myths surrounding hepatitis infection are just that – myths, they have no basis in fact and should be dismissed.

How it is really transmitted and contracted

Hepatitis is commonly transmitted through the infected bodily fluids of an individual who carries the virus. There are several ways that this can occur

  • Unprotected sex – particularly with a number of sexual partners

  • Intravenous drug users sharing needles and other paraphernalia

  • A pregnant woman may pass the virus to her unborn child

  • Sharing of personal hygiene products such as toothbrushes or razors which may be contaminated with infected blood

  • Accidental needle stick injuries

  • Infection following body piercing or tattoos have been known.

Symptoms

Unfortunately many people exhibit no symptoms of a hepatitis infection. Anyone who believes they may have been exposed to the virus should seek medical advice as soon as possible in order to be tested for the infection. Symptoms may include -

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Lack of appetite

  • Fatigue

  • Headache

  • Dark urine and light coloured stools

  • Aches and pains in the muscles and joints

  • Fever

  • Diarrhoea

  • Jaundice

Any patient experiencing the symptoms of hepatitis may well feel extremely poorly and may even require hospital treatment.

Complications

The biggest threat from hepatitis B is that there are often no symptoms present – any liver test may produce a normal result. By the time any symptoms appear it may be too late for any effective treatment program to take place. However, the disease does vary from individual to individual and treatment is usually determined on a case by case basis.

Acute and chronic phases

A new, or acute, infection of hepatitis generally goes away, untreated, within six months. This is particularly the case for adults who become infected with the virus.

If the virus remains after this initial six month period it has entered the chronic phase of the disease which, if left untreated, may develop into serious liver disease – this may, however, take many years. Individuals with chronic hepatitis should be closely monitored in order to see if and when treatment is required and should also be aware that they can transmit the disease to others. Chronic hepatitis is generally seen in individuals who have contracted the infection at a young age or in those with a compromised immune system.

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