Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B - What Is It? How Is It Diagnosed? How To Treat and Prevent It?

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Overview

Hepatitis B is a viral infection caused by the hepatitis B virus. This viral infection mainly attacks and affects the liver of a person. The nature of the disease can cause chronic and acute diseases. There are no visible symptoms that can be observed during the initial weeks of the occurrence of infection but for some, they experience yellowish skin, vomiting, abdominal pain, and dark-colored urine. Being a viral infection and a transmitted infection, it has an average of 10.5% affected in the world population. Being diagnosed with Hepatitis B also increases the risk of a person to have cirrhosis and liver cancer. As it is a potentially life-threatening liver infection, there is a safe and effective vaccine developed by healthcare professionals which can offer up to 100% protection against the hepatitis B virus. This virus is commonly transmitted through blood and body fluid exposure.

Modes of Transmission

There are many modes of transmission of hepatitis B - which is probably the reason why there are many people affected in the general population. We’ve listed down below the different modes of transmission of the hepatitis B virus:

Perinatal Transmission

The most common of all, this transmission occurs when the hepatitis B virus is transmitted from mother to child during birth. Most people who were affected during birth develop chronic hepatitis B even before the age of five years old.

Exposure to Blood

Also known as horizontal transmission, another common method of transmission of hepatitis B is the exposure of a person to blood with hepatitis B, for some this occurs during the time of birth or when a child is exposed during childhood.

Intravenous Drug Usage or Blood Transfusions

Usage of intravenous drugs and blood transfusions where some tools are shared has the risks of having the virus transmitted to another person. If a person carrying the hepatitis B virus uses such tools and lets his blood or fluid pass through, then it is possible to be passed on to someone who uses that tool again.

Sexual Intercourse, Vaginal and Seminal Fluids

Hepatitis B is considered a sexually transmitted infection as it can be transferred from one person to another through vaginal fluids or infected semen.

Tattooing and Acupuncture

Activities such as tattooing and acupuncture use needles wherein blood can be transferred and exposed to another person if the needles are re-used. If you’re engaging in activities like this, make sure that the needles used are from sealed packages and are new.

Testing and Diagnosis

Unlike the other sexually transmitted infections, the diagnosis and testing of hepatitis B are more specific. The list below details the different methods used in testing and diagnosis of the occurrence of the infection.

Blood Test

The blood test will reveal many characteristics of your health and your liver which will confirm if you have hepatitis B or not. This is the usual test for people who are suspected to have an acute hepatitis B. Below are some of the factors that are looked into when analyzing your blood:

    • Hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) and antibody. The HBsAg is an antigen that is present in blood once affected by the hepatitis B virus. These antigens are proteins that are present in the hepatitis B virus and show up usually after up to 10 weeks after exposure. If you undergo medical treatment or without any medication, these antigens are usually no longer present in your blood after four to six months.

    Hepatitis B surface antibody

    These are the antibodies that are present in your blood which indicate that you have fully recovered from chronic hepatitis B.

    Biopsy

    For chronic hepatitis B - the HBsAg antigens will still persist even after six months, doctors will require a biopsy. A biopsy is simply the acquisition of a tissue sample from a person’s liver. This tissue sample will be tested and analyzed to assess as to how much damage has been done in your liver and as well as you’re body’s overall health.

    Tips For Prevention

    Get vaccinated

    The hepatitis B vaccine is affordable and easily available. For most countries, this has been a long part of the health programs, especially for children.

    Maintain a clean environment wherever you stay

    Viruses only thrive in a condition that is suitable for them. Maintaining a well-sanitized and a hygienic surroundings will effectively prevent the spread and transmission of the virus.

    Avoid using common tools that have been exposed to fluids and blood

    For tools that have been used by other people and have been infected - make sure to request a new set of unused tools (e.g. needles for injection).

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Can I get Hepatitis B by holding hands, coughing or sneezing?

      No. The virus can only be transmitted through blood, saliva, vaginal fluids or infected semen.

      Is breastfeeding considered a perinatal transmission?

        No. You cannot transmit hepatitis B with breastfeeding.

        What is the most effective way of treating hepatitis B?

          There are two types of hepatitis B - acute hepatitis B and chronic hepatitis B. For acute hepatitis B, usually, there is no treatment administered as the person’s immune system clears out the infection by itself.

          For Chronic Hepatitis B, affected people are administered with antiviral medications. These medications do not clear the infection but it stops the replication of the virus. Most treatments last from six months to one year and can be taken orally. Most people suffering from chronic hepatitis B are treated to decrease the risk of getting a liver cancer and cirrhosis.

          Can hepatitis B be screened during pregnancy?

            Yes. Most developed countries including the United States of America, recommend screening during pregnancy. This gives more options for soon-to-be parents and better management of the pregnancy.

            If I was diagnosed with acute hepatitis B, is it possible to be infected again?

              Yes but it rarely happens. This can occur with alcohol or drug abuse but in most cases, those who have been affected and were successfully treated develope a protective immunity to the virus.

              What is the most effective way to prevent yourself from being infected with hepatitis B?

                Since a fully functional vaccine has been implemented and has been widely promoted, getting a vaccine is the most effective method in preventing the acquisition of hepatitis B.

                Most of the vaccines are safe, easily available and effective.


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