The hepatitis virus is one of the liver’s greatest enemies. It causes infections that can severely malfunction the liver, resulting in various conditions like scarring of the liver, liver failure, or even liver cancer. The hepatitis viruses have three types, namely, A, B, and C. While all three can cause complications of the liver, hepatitis B and C are considered to be the most severe. Hepatitis B can cause a potentially fatal infection if left untreated.
The hepatitis B infection can spread when people come in direct contact with the blood, open sore, or other body fluids of an infected person. The infection can be treated with medications, however, the body, particularly the liver, may take a long time to recover from the illness and return to its normal levels. The good news is once you’ve had a hepatitis B infection, your body gains immunity to the virus for the better part of your life.
Acute vs. Chronic Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B can develop into one of two types of infections, either acute or chronic. When people get infected by the hepatitis B virus, they first contract the acute form of the infection, also referred to as the new infection. In some cases, symptoms may not even show up at the start, and the infected individual may be able to get relief from the virus without any complications. However, for some adults, the infection is not fully treated even with long-term medications, causing a more severe form of the infection, also known as chronic hepatitis B.
Your risk of developing the chronic or acute form of hepatitis B depends largely on your age and your body’s immunity levels. The risk of developing a chronic hepatitis B infection is greater when the person is younger. The following are some statistics about contracting hepatitis B:
- Infants infected with hepatitis B are more likely to develop a chronic infection. This holds true for about 90 percent of infants infected by the virus.
- Children between the ages one and five years old have a 50 percent chance of developing a chronic hepatitis B infection.
- Healthy adults over 19 years of age have about a 5-10 percent chance of contracting a chronic form of hepatitis B.
- Pregnant women with compromised immunity levels could contract the hepatitis B infection without knowing it. This, in turn, could easily pass to the baby during childbirth, which is why the first dose of the hepatitis B vaccine is administered within 12-24 hours of birth.
According to statistics, about 25 percent of Americans living with the chronic form of hepatitis B acquired the infection early in their childhood. This is why health authorities place so much emphasis on timely vaccination of infants and children due to their higher risk of developing chronic infections.
The acute form of hepatitis B normally lasts up to six months, and it can be present in a person with or without any symptoms. The person infected with the hepatitis B virus could pass on the infection to other people without feeling any specific symptoms.
5 Key Facts About Hepatitis
Hepatitis affects a number of people annually. It has some serious implications for the overall health and functioning of the body. Here are five important facts about the hepatitis infection you should be aware of:
- Hepatitis is one of the most common infections affecting about one million people every year. Approximately 2.7 million people each year face the repercussions of being affected by hepatitis B. It is known to be a silent disease since people could live with it for years and have no idea it’s there. By the time tests confirm the infection in the body, the virus could have caused significant damage to the body.
- Symptoms of liver damage may not show up early. In a number of cases, infections like hepatitis B could cause serious liver damage without people realizing it until it is significant. Out of 100 people who develop one or another form of hepatitis, around 5 to 20 develop a serious case of cirrhosis of the liver.
- Hepatitis is a chronic infection. It has various types, and most of the forms are highly contagious. Sharing of needles and coming in contact with contaminated blood are some of the most common ways the disease is transmitted.
- Some forms of hepatitis do not have a vaccine. For infections like hepatitis C, there is no available vaccination, which makes the disease and its effects rather serious.
- Diet plays a key role in the recovery process. A good, light diet is often recommended for patients suffering from hepatitis. It is important to take care of your diet since the liver is already weak due to the infection and should not be further stressed.
How do you know if the infection is still present in your body?
Generally, a blood test is required to test for the presence of hepatitis B in the body. Symptoms of the infection can be quite misleading and hence cannot form the sole basis for diagnosing the disease. After you are treated for the infection and physically recover from it, your doctor may suggest a blood test to confirm that no signs of the infection remain in your bloodstream.
Some people may recover from the illness but still have traces of the infection longer than six months. Such people become carriers of the disease and may continue even without symptoms. You can transmit the virus to someone else through:
- Sexual intercourse
- Blood or open sores
- Needles or syringes
In some cases, the disease could settle on its own even if you are a carrier. However, if it lasts for more than six months, hepatitis B can turn into a chronic infection. In the chronic form, the infection will soon turn into a condition of the liver that can result in liver cirrhosis or scarring of the liver. Over time with the long-term infection, the liver’s performance is affected and could even lead to liver cancer.
If you have been diagnosed with hepatitis B and are unsure if the infection has completely left you, avoid donating your blood, sperm, or any other form of body fluid donation that is likely to infect another person with the virus. Your partner should also undergo a blood test once you have been diagnosed with the condition since it could spread to them. Ideally, your doctor or dentist should also exercise caution while checking you as they could also be at risk of catching the infection.
Is hepatitis B a common infection?
The rate of this infection has considerably reduced due to awareness-spreading initiatives undertaken by various health organizations. The number of people suffering from hepatitis B has drastically decreased over the last few decades. People between 20 and 49 years of age fall under the risk bracket of contracting this infection. Globally, hepatitis B is known to affect about 240 million people every year.
Is hepatitis B curable?
If you suspect you may have a hepatitis B infection, you need to see your doctor immediately. If you have not received the necessary vaccines to protect you against the infection or if you are unsure whether you have received the vaccine or not, you need to have an injection that protects you against the hepatitis B virus called immune globulin, which works best when administered within 12 hours of being exposed to the virus.
The hepatitis B infection can be cured, but it may leave you feeling weak and drained until your body fully recovers. Until the body recovers from the after-effects of the infection, you may need to have precautions to your diet.
Importance of Diet in Treating Hepatitis
Dietary changes are a must with a hepatitis infection to avoid overloading the liver with fatty foods and others that could also strain the functioning of the liver. Some foods that must be avoided while recuperating from a hepatitis infection include:
- Alcohol: One of the first restrictions with a hepatitis infection is prohibiting alcohol consumption. Alcohol is attributed as the number one reason for liver cirrhosis. Hence, when the functioning of the liver is already impacted due to a hepatitis infection, alcohol restrictions are incredibly important.
- Wheat and Gluten: Foods that contain wheat and gluten are harder for the liver to digest. By nature, gluten is an inflammatory food because, as per the natural process, humans are not designed to digest gluten. Also, the increasing availability of genetically-modified grains increases the gluten content in them, which is all the heavier for the liver and body to digest. These days, most wheat is grown with genetically-modified seeds to reduce exposure to pesticides and climatic stress. Due to this, these grains are more difficult to digest. When you are on a hepatitis recovery diet, it is best to go with gluten-free grains.
- Tap Water: Tap water may sometimes be contaminated with various pollutants, such as heavy metals, chemicals, and certain harmful compounds that could be too heavy for the liver to detoxify. We do not realize it, but even when showering, we expose our body to a number of chemicals present in the water, which are absorbed by our skin and lungs. When consuming water, make sure to process the water and use only boiled or filtered water.
- Junk Food: Junk foods are the easiest to grab on the go, but as the name suggests, they serve no nutritional purpose. Junk foods are high in chemical preservatives, fats, and empty sugars which are hard for the liver to digest in comparison to natural foods that the body is designed to consume. Hence, when recovering from a hepatitis infection, it is unhealthy to further strain the liver by consuming harmful products. You should stick to a junk-free diet until you completely recover from the infection.
- White Flour: White flour is chemically processed with added flavors and agents to maintain consistency in products. When the flour is being processed, it loses several essential vitamins and minerals, causing it to have zero nutritional value by the time you consume it. Opt for gluten-free whole wheat flour, which is much healthier for your body, liver, and gut.
- Hydrogenated Oils: Refined oils are yet another category of foods which are difficult for the liver to digest. When you are undergoing hepatitis treatment, stick to oils that are less dense and are easier for the liver to process and digest. Flaxseed oil and olive oil are the best for liver health when recovering from a disease like hepatitis.
- Milk and Milk Products: Although milk and dairy products are essential to meet your daily calcium requirements, it is known that these products are more difficult to digest. Dairy foods are more complex for the liver to break down and digest, and thus leave it open to a number of bacterial infections. Lactose intolerance is a very common problem, so, during hepatitis treatment, it is best to steer clear of dairy products to prevent your liver from further infections that could complicate the treatment process.