Hepatitis B – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

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Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is a highly transmissible disease and can lead to death but is does not have to. Learn more about this infectious virus. Moreover, learn what steps you and your family can take to prevent it.

What is Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is one of a family of hepatitis viruses that attack the liver. It is also known as one of the silent infections because it often has no symptoms to alert you that it is in your system. It is reported by the University Health Center, that over 300,000 people contract HBV every year in the United States. Men, women and children make up this number although college students are a higher percentage. HBV is considered a STD because one of the ways that it can be transmitted is through the exchange of genital fluids.

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How Is Hepatitis B Spread?

This virus is extremely contagious and is passed through an exchange of infected body fluids, namely semen, vaginal secretions, urine, blood and saliva. Therefore, transmission of the virus can occur through sexual acts, where these fluids are exchanged without protection, and this includes oral sex as well as kissing.

In addition, sharing needles is also how hepatitis B is spread. Pricking oneself with a contaminated needle is another way. This is a concern for those working around contaminated blood and needles. Individuals who are getting a tattoo or getting body parts pierced can pose an infection risk if the needles used are unsterilized.

For people who live with someone who has chronic hepatitis B are also at high risk as the virus can survive outside the body for up to one week and still be able to cause an infection. Therefore sharing shaving razors, tweezers and toothbrushes are not recommended, as these are some of the alternative ways to pass on the virus to others. HBV can also passed from mother to child during pregnancy and delivery.

Hepatitis B Symptoms & Signs

For many there are no symptoms. Many people who are infected can feel healthy and may not know they have it. This is particularly alarming because if you don’t know you have it then there’s no urgency to protect others. However, if symptoms do occur they could appear between six week to six months after infection. Within this time, a person is consider to have acute hepatitis B and could experience extreme fatigue, stomach pains, no appetite, nausea and vomiting, hives, headaches, and joint pain. Left untreated for more than 6 months, the infection become chronic and becomes a lifelong condition. In the chronic hepatitis B stages, a person’s skin and eyes take on a yellowish hue (Jaundice) and their urine is dark yellow with a pale bowel movement. The stomach pains become more severe during this stage as well.

Can Hepatitis B Be Cured?

There is no cure for this virus. However, the vaccine is over 90% effective in preventing the virus and protection last a lifetime. The rate by which people are infected has decreased because of the vaccine. In most cases after the first 4-8 weeks of being exposed to hepatitis B, the virus usually goes away on its own because a healthy immune system is usually enough to fight this virus. Recovery could take up to six months. On the other hand, there are those times when the virus is still present after the recovery period and will remain in a person’s system for life. They become a carrier and can infect others even without active symptoms. It is reported that there are close to 1.4 million carriers in the United States.

Treatment & Prevention

Hepatitis B VaccineThe only way to know if you have hepatitis B is to be tested. It is as simple as having your blood drawn to test for the presence of antibodies or virus antigens. In the event that a patient is chronically infected, a doctor may suggest to perform a liver biopsy to determine the stage of infection and the extend of damage to the liver.

For uninfected individuals, the HBV vaccine is recommended. It is given in three stages over a course of six months and is 90% effective. The immunization against hepatitis B also help protects oneself against hepatitis D.

If you live in the same household with someone who is infected, being vaccinated is not an option. It is imperative that young adults be vaccinated before engaging in sexual activities.

Treatment during the active stage is usually centered on the symptoms since there is no cure. Your doctor will recommend plenty of rest and fluids. In addition, tactics to reduce nausea and vomiting is also given, such as eating small meal that consists of high protein and fiber. Avoiding alcohol during this stage is encouraged since alcohol beverages would increase the chances of liver damage.

If hepatitis b goes unattended, it could lead to cirrhosis of the liver and even liver cancer. For people with chronic hepatitis B infections, doctors may suggest a treatment of antiviral drugs and injections of synthetic interferon to protect existing healthy cells from viral infection. Common antiviral drugs used to treat the disease are adefovir, entecavir, telbvudine, and tenofovir.

People who are carriers should make all potential sex partners aware, never donate blood or organs, and let your other health practitioners know that you are a carrier such as your dentist.

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Other Hepatitis Viruses

There are four other hepatitis viruses, similar to hepatitis b in that they too attack the liver and can be spread by way of bodily fluids; however, there are differences.

Hepatitis A (HAV) – Most people have heard of HAV. It is spread via contaminated food or water. There is a vaccine.

Hepatitis C (HCV) – Almost like hepatitis B, it is spread though contact with bodily fluids. However, a vaccine does not exist.

Hepatitis E (HEV) – Usually passed on via the anal or oral method. Transmission can also occur via contaminated food. There is no vaccine presently.

Hepatitis D (HDV) – A progression of hepatitis B and is spread in the same manner. A vaccine for HDV does exist but immunization against hepatitis B also help protects oneself against hepatitis D.

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