Your liver can become infected by a virus that causes the condition: Hepatitis B. There are varying degrees of this infection, and for many people, the symptoms are mild and require little to no treatment. However, this is not always the case. Sometimes the condition can become chronic, causing multiple more complex issues such as; organ failure and scarring, cancer and even death.
Hepatitis B transmission happens when an individual is exposed to the infected blood or other bodily fluids of someone who has infected themselves. The condition itself can be dangerous.
However, most adults who are diagnosed with Hepatitis B can fight it off within a few short months and are unable to contract the disease again for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, however, if you are born with the disease, that is not the case, and you are likely to have it for the rest of your life.
By definition, Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver, and there are multiple types of Hepatitis. In addition to Hepatitis B, both Hepatitis A and C are also caused by a virus.
An acute Hepatitis B infection does not always produce symptoms. This is especially true for children under five years of age who have been infected by the virus.
For those who do become infected and experience symptoms, they may include stomach and joint paint, fever, long term fatigue, stomach upset that may include vomiting or loss of appetite, discoloured bowel movements and sometimes a discolouring of the skin or sclera (whites of your eyes).
This is caused by a secondary condition called Jaundice that may also change the colour of your urine to an orange or brown colour.
33 % of people who become infected with Hepatitis B are asymptomatic and only ever find out they are infected once they are given a blood test. If you do become symptomatic, it may not be right away.
Sometimes you will not experience any symptoms until multiple months after infection. Anywhere between one and six months later. Even chronic Hepatitis B symptoms may not show up right away, and when they do, they may appear as acute symptoms.
So who is at risk of becoming infected and how is it caused? As mentioned earlier, the infection is caused by the Hepatitis B virus, which can be transmitted even if you do not feel ill. The infection is spread from person to person in a variety of ways, but the most common cause is unprotected sex.
If your partner is infected and their vaginal or seminal fluid, saliva or blood enter your bloodstream, then you can become infected yourself.
Health care workers and drug users may also come into contact with the virus through needles that may have been exposed to infected blood. If a woman who is pregnant is infected or becomes infected during the course of her pregnancy, the child may be born with the infection as well, although there is a vaccine to prevent the transmission from mother to child.
You will not contract Hepatitis B by kissing or sharing food or drink, and you will not get it through touching someone or through someone else’s sneeze or cough.
So how likely are you to contract Hepatitis B? The Center for Disease Control has stated that the number of cases is decreasing. In the ’80s, the rate of infection was about 200,00 per year. In 2016 those same rates had dropped to only 20,000. Those most at risk of contracting the infection are people aged between 20 and 49.
For infants and children, the likelihood of becoming chronically infected is 90 % and 25 – 50 % respectively. Adults, however, are far less likely to develop chronic infections with recovery rates being approximately 95 %.
There is a possibility to be infected and show no symptoms at all. These people are carriers of the virus, and it is estimated that there are as many as 1.2 million people in the United States alone who are carrying the virus unknowingly.
If you suspect that you may have Hepatitis B, you should see a doctor for evaluation. If your physician suspects that you may be infected, they will perform several tests to verify. These test may include a full physical examination and a blood test to detect possible liver inflammation.
If your test comes back positive and your liver enzymes are also high, they will also test you for HBsAg or the surface antigen and antibody for Hepatitis B. The proteins made by the cells in your immune system are called antibodies and antigens are the proteins associated with eh Hepatitis B virus.
Your physician will know if your condition is chronic after 6 months if the antibodies and antigens are still present in your system as they occur 1 – 10 weeks after exposure and go away with 4-6 months. After this period of time, HBsAg is replaced with the anti-HBS or the Hepatitis B surface antibody. Once this occurs, you are immune from the virus for the rest of your life.
Chronic infection may require a biopsy (small tissue sample) of your liver to determine the level of severity of your infection, and ultrasound may be performed to distinguish how much damage your liver has suffered.
If you believe that you may have come into contact with the virus, you should seek medical care as soon as possible. The quicker you can get treated, the better off you will be. If treated early enough, a vaccine and a dose of Hepatitis B immune globulin can be administered, which will assist your immune system in fighting back the infection. If after treatment, you still get sick, your physician may prescribe some rest to assist your body in recovering more quickly.
Once you recover, you will have to eliminate certain liver harming items from your life such as alcohol and certain medications like acetaminophen or potentially certain herbal supplements. It would be best if you discussed with your physician before continuing or starting any medications.
When your infection is gone, you are what’s called an inactive carrier. This means that the Hepatitis B virus no longer remains in your system, but blood tests will be able to show that you were infected at some point in the past. If after 6 months, the infection has not gone away, you may be considered chronically infected, and your physician may prescribe certain medications as a Hepatitis B treatment.
Some of these medications may include Entecavir, Tenofovir, Lamivudine, Adefovir Dipivoxil and Interferon Alfa. As with all medications, there are differences between these medications.
Many of these drugs come in multiple forms of administration. Some of these drugs are prescribed only once you stop responding to other medications. Some medication, such as Interferon Alfa, do not cure the infection but rather boost your immune systems and treats the inflammation of the liver. It is recommended that you discuss with your physician all medications that may be beneficial to you as well as their side effects.
Tests administered by a physician are the only way to know for sure if you or a loved one is infected and vaccines are a great way to prevent that infection once you know whether or not you have Hepatitis B. The Hepatitis B vaccine may also prevent liver cancer as the leading cause of liver cancer is the Hepatitis B virus.