Hepatitis B virus

November 12, 2012

Hepatitis B virus

Hepatitis B is a serious and very contagious infection that can be fatal in some cases due to the way it attacks the liver.

The hepatitis B virus is responsible for causing the hepatitis B infection, an infection with two phases -

  • Acute hepatitis B refers to patients who have been newly infected and have noticed the occurrence of symptoms appearing several months after exposure to the hepatitis B virus.

  • Chronic hepatitis B is an infection which persists for a period of longer than 6 months and which may never disappear – between 5 and 10% of adults will develop chronic hepatitis B; however, 90% of children will develop it. Around 1/3 of chronic hepatitis B sufferers will develop active hepatitis, a serious liver condition.

Carriers

Around 66% of those with chronic hepatitis B infection are recognized as chronic carriers. This means that although they exhibit no symptoms they are, nonetheless, carriers of the hepatitis B virus and can pass it to others.

It’s all about the liver

The liver is a vital organ used to filter toxins from the blood; it also stores energy; aids digestion; produces infection fighting substances and controls bleeding. The liver has an amazing ability for self-healing but the long term inflammation caused by the hepatitis B virus can cause permanent damage.

Cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver, is more commonly associated with alcohol abuse but it is something also caused by chronic active hepatitis B infection; this may result in complete liver failure for which the only treatment is a transplant.

Hepatocellular carcinoma is a type of liver cancer associated with chronic hepatitis B. Around 25% of those with chronic hepatitis B will die from liver disease.

Passing it around

Because the hepatitis B virus is a blood borne virus it is easily transmitted by contact with an infected person’s blood or bodily fluids. This can happen in a variety of ways -

  • An infected pregnant woman may infect her new born either during or shortly after delivery.

  • Sharing of dirty needles by intravenous drug users

  • Inadvertent needle stick injuries

  • Unprotected sex with an infected partner

  • Contact of bodily fluids with broken skin

Some groups of people are more at risk than others of contracting the hepatitis B virus

  • Those with multiple sex partners

  • Men who have sex with men

  • Those who have unprotected sex with an unprotected partner

  • Intravenous drug users

  • Recipients of blood transfusions or blood products

  • Dialysis patients

  • Those with pre-existing sexually transmitted diseases

  • Health care workers

  • Babies born to infected mothers.

In some cases the source of the infection may never be discovered.

Symptoms

Many of those infected with this virus never develop any symptoms and may never realize they are infected. Symptoms generally appear within four months of being exposed to the virus and may, initially, be mistaken for the ‘flu. Other common symptoms include -

  • Loss of appetite

  • Fatigue

  • Extreme itching

  • Pain around the liver area

  • Jaundice

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Dark urine

  • Pale, almost white, stools

There is a reliable vaccine to protect against the hepatitis B virus and this is available to anyone who thinks they may need or want it.

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