What is Hepatitis B?
The term Hepatitis implies the inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis B affects the liver. It is an infectious disease caused by hepatitis B virus or HBV. It is a DNA virus and belongs to the family of viruses named Hepadnaviridae. Usually, adults with hepatitis B have it for a short time and can get cured. This type of infection is called acute hepatitis B. But sometimes this infection stays for a longer period and is regarded as chronic hepatitis B. Chronic hepatitis B is more common in children and babies.
How does the presence of Hepatitis B virus the effect the liver?
The hepatitis B virus does not directly harm the liver, though it reproduces in the liver. The presence of this virus generates an immune response, and the immune system of the body tries to eradicate the virus from the body, which leads to inflammation of the liver and injury to the liver.
How is hepatitis B transmitted?
Hepatitis B is spread mainly due to exposure to infected bodily fluids like blood, semen, saliva and breast milk. It does not spread due to casual touching and sharing food. The main reason for transmission are:
- It can happen due to transfusion of hepatitis b infected blood or organs.
- It can happen when people get tattooed or get body piercings done with unsterilized needles.
- People who take drugs share needles with each other, and this can lead to hepatitis b if one of them is infected.
- It can also happen due to sharing of toothbrushes, razors, etc. with an infected person.
- It can happen due to unprotected sexual contact with an infected person.
Symptoms of acute hepatitis B
Sometimes a patient with acute hepatitis b may not experience any symptoms for three to four months after acquiring the virus. Later they may feel feverish and show symptoms very similar to flu.
Some people who do exhibit symptoms may feel fatigued, lose their appetite, have pain in the upper portion of the abdomen and jaundice.
In very rare cases the patients with acute hepatitis B can develop fulminant hepatitis in which the liver stops functioning altogether. Patients with fulminant hepatitis are more prone to bleeding that can lead to Coma. They may need a liver transplant.
Symptoms of chronic hepatitis B
People with chronic hepatitis B do not show any symptoms of the diseases for a year. The functions of liver like clotting of blood, immunity, production of bile are all hampered due to hepatitis B. Patients are at high risk of developing a liver disease like cirrhosis and liver cancer.
How is hepatitis B diagnosed?
Hepatitis B is diagnosed with the help of blood tests. These blood tests can not only confirm the presence of hepatitis b virus, but it can also confirm if we have taken any vaccination in the past. These blood tests can also reveal the DNA load.
These blood tests are often suggested when the results of routine liver function test show abnormalities or when a patient has continuous vomiting and is unable to take fluids.
In cases of chronic hepatitis, the doctor can also suggest X-rays, and CT scans and liver biopsy can also be suggested.
A liver biopsy demands the removal of a small tissue of the liver by inserting a needle into the liver. This tissue is then analyzed under the microscope for abnormalities and checking the extent of the damage.
Treatments available for hepatitis B
The patients with acute hepatitis B do not require any medical treatment initially as it may resolve on its own. The patients can recover on their own by taking rest and taking a healthy diet and lots of fluid. In case of frequent vomiting, fluids are restored intravenously, and the patient is given medications to control the symptoms.
If a person develops chronic hepatitis B, he is given antiviral agents which are approved by the food and drug administration. These antiviral agents may not be suitable for all the patients. It is usually given to patients whose infection can progress to cirrhosis.
Medications for hepatitis depend on the extent of liver damage in the patient. The patients are suggested regular tests, ultrasounds and medical checkups to monitor the extent of the damage.
How can we prevent hepatitis B?
The best way to prevent hepatitis b is by taking a vaccination for hepatitis b. This vaccination is available since 1982. This vaccination is given in a series of three injections. The first injection is given soon after birth, the second injection is given after a month, and the third dose is followed in eight weeks.
Dr. Susan Ng, a Gastroenterologist in East Bay, recommends that every individual should get themselves vaccinated (if they have not been vaccinated in infancy). She also suggests practicing safe sex, not sharing needles, razors and other personal items to protect ourselves from hepatitis b.
We should make necessary lifestyle changes to protect ourselves from hepatitis B to lead a healthy life.