Hepatitis B represents inflammation of the liver caused by Hepatitis B virus, one of several viruses which are capable to cause inflammation of this organ. Hepatitis B can be acute or chronic and is generally contracted through direct contact with blood or other body fluids. It is estimated that this type of hepatitis affects 2 million people worldwide. Chronic infection is more serious than acute because it inevitably leads to liver cirrhosis and may sometimes be responsible for liver cancer.
Symptoms and Signs of Hepatitis B
In acute form of the disease patients develops symptoms and signs which generally last several weeks after which the infections withdraws. Chronic form of the infection occurs if the virus remains in the body and is then capable of inducing repeated inflammation of the liver. The most common symptoms and signs of this liver inflammation include jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes), dark-colored urine, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain/cramps.
It may take up to a year for an individual to completely recover after acute hepatitis B. Unfortunately, as it has already been mentioned, certain number of patients ends up with chronic form of the infection and eventually develops life-threatening complications of the disease.
Whether hepatitis B will progress into chronic form depends on several factors. One of them is patient's age (the infection becomes chronic more in young children).
The virus is easily transmitted via blood or other fluids and secretions form the infected individual's body (semen, vaginal fluid etc.). So the actual route of transmission is the same as the one in case of HIV. However, it is essential to mention that infectiousness of Hepatitis B virus is 50-100 times greater comparing to HIV.
Hepatitis B infection can be transmitted from a mother to her unborn baby, by sharing needles with infected individuals, through blood transfusions (today very rare transmission pathway) and sexual contact.
Treatment for Hepatitis B
Treatment for hepatitis B is actually symptomatic since there is no drug which can eradicate the virus from the body. The goal of such treatment is to maintain comfort and nutrition balance as well as deal with all the symptoms and signs of infection. Balance of fluids is also essential for proper recovery.
Patients suffering from chronic hepatitis B eventually develop liver cirrhosis and may end up with liver cancer. Because of the possibility of the infection to progress into chronic form it is essential for certain groups of people to be vaccinated and this way properly protected against this infection. Hepatitis B vaccine should be administered in people with high-risk sexual behavior, partners and household contacts of hepatitis B infected individuals, intravenous drug users, people who often receive blood/blood products, patients who receive solid organs via transplantation, people who are at occupational risk of developing hepatitis B infection. And finally, even people traveling to countries with high rates of this infection should be timely vaccinated.