Hepatitis B is a disease that is caused by the hepatitis B virus, which can seriously damage the liver. Very few people who have the disease realize its symptoms. Hepatitis B virus usually develops in a carrier body within two to three months.
In most adult cases, they get it for a short duration and then gets better. This type of hepatitis is called as acute hepatitis B. If the virus causes a long-term infection in the patient then it is called as chronic hepatitis B. Chronic hepatitis B can cause permanent damage to the liver. Most small babies and children who get infected with this virus are more likely to get chronic hepatitis B.
Symptoms of Acute Hepatitis B
There are two kinds of hepatitis B infections: acute and chronic. The major symptoms of acute hepatitis B include:
- Aches in the body
- Joint pain
- Pain in the abdominal area, especially around the liver
- High fever
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling sick
- Dark-colored urine
- Pregnant women may experience heavy bleeding at the time of childbirth
Acute hepatitis B can be easily detected by a simple blood test. It is good to get your loved ones tested for hepatitis B. If they test negative, then make them start the series of hepatitis B vaccine shots. The symptoms of an acute infection will manifest two to three months after the person gets infected with the virus.
Symptoms of Chronic Hepatitis B
The symptoms of chronic hepatitis B usually vary. The liver plays a very important role in the body’s immune system. It is the one that produces the clotting factors, makes bile to help in the digestion process, breaks down the toxins, and much more. Usually, people with chronic hepatitis B remain asymptomatic for many years. When the situation becomes worse than before, only then the signs and symptoms appear.
Children are the ones who are at a higher risk of developing chronic hepatitis B. A majority of the infected young children find it difficult to get rid of the virus from their body, leading to the development of a chronic infection. More than 90 percent of infants who are infected will get a chronic hepatitis B infection. The reason is that the majority of pregnant mothers never realize that they have been infected with the hepatitis B virus. This results in unknowingly transferring the virus to the child during childbirth. For this reason, a hepatitis B vaccine is so important for children. Teenagers are also vaccinated at an early age as their potential lifestyle choices can lead to the development of chronic hepatitis B. The symptoms of chronic hepatitis B include:
- Significant weight loss
- A rash appears in the palm of your hands
- Blood clotting difficulties
- Spider-like blood vessels appear in the different parts of the body
- A vision problem because of the less absorption of vitamin A
- Osteoporosis problem because of the less absorption of vitamin D
Knowing that you have hepatitis B can be really depressing. The symptoms of chronic hepatitis B do not show for years and years. Therefore, its diagnosis becomes difficult. By the time the symptoms are seen, the infection worsens. Sometimes, it even leads to liver damage if not properly taken care of.
How long will it last?
Usually, adults easily get rid of acute hepatitis B. Acute hepatitis B rarely causes any serious problems. Infrequently, acute hepatitis B lasts longer for more than six months. On the other hand, babies and children are at risk of developing chronic hepatitis B. It is much less ordinary in people who became infected afterward in childhood or when they are an adult.
Moreover, the signs of chronic hepatitis B are quite similar to acute hepatitis B. They are likely to be quite mild that just came and left. Even some people do not realize any noticeable signs of the infection.
Transmission of the Virus
Hepatitis B virus is known to survive outside the body for at least a week or seven days to be precise. In this duration, the virus can enter the body of any person who is not protected against this virus. The period of incubation for this virus is around 75 days on an average. However, it can range from 30-180 days.
Once the person is infected, the virus can be detected within a period of 30-60 days. It can persist and develop into chronic hepatitis B if the virus is not timely detected and treated. In areas where this virus is highly endemic is commonly known to spread from a mother to its child during the birth period.
In infants, the development of a chronic infection is quite common if it comes through the mother or before the child attains the age of five years. Hepatitis B is also known to be transmitted by percutaneous or mucosal exposure to infected blood and other body fluids such as saliva, seminal, vaginal, or menstrual fluids.
Also, men who have not been vaccinated and have sex with men and heterosexual persons, who have multiple partners or sex workers, are also carriers of this disease if they are infected.
You have to be aware of the risk factors to avoid contracting the hepatitis B virus. Below are some of the risk factors:
- If you have sex with a partner who has hepatitis B or who is infected with the hepatitis B virus
- Sharing needles at the time of taking illegal drugs or intravenous drugs
- Men having sex with men
- A close relationship with someone who has chronic hepatitis B
- A newborn baby with a mother who has hepatitis B
- Health workers or volunteers who are exposed to infected human blood and other body fluids
- Traveling to areas that have high infection rates of the hepatitis B virus, especially in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia
- Getting a tattoo done or piercing with instruments, which are non-sterile
- Sharing of personal items such as toothbrushes or razors with a person who is infected with the virus
If we do not know the signs and symptoms of hepatitis B, we cannot keep ourselves safe from the disease. It is highly recommended to have an appointment with a doctor to get tested. If you are positive in the result, take the advantage to be vaccinated for hepatitis B and get cured. Moreover, being aware of the modes of transmission of the virus is a successful technique in preventing this disease.
One should note that even though hepatitis B is contagious, one would not get it by casual contact such as hugging, sneezing, coughing, sharing of food items, or kissing.
If the doctor suspects that you have hepatitis B, he or she will do a physical examination. If the doctor still feels you have the symptoms, then you will have to undergo certain blood tests. Some of the tests are:
- Hepatitis B surface antigen test - If this test is positive, that means you have hepatitis B and are capable of spreading the virus. However, this test does not determine if the infection is an acute or chronic form of hepatitis B.
- Hepatitis B core antigen test - This test identifies whether the hepatitis B infection is chronic or acute. If the test is positive, it means that you have chronic hepatitis B.
- Liver function tests - Liver function tests check the enzymes in your liver. The results of these tests can reveal whether your liver is under stress. It can also identify any signs of the disease. If your illness becomes chronic, the doctor might take a tissue sample from your liver for further testing. This procedure is known as a biopsy.
How to prevent hepatitis B?
There are vaccinations available for hepatitis B. If you feel that you stand a chance of contracting the hepatitis B virus, go to the clinic and get yourself vaccinated. Hepatitis B vaccination is available in a series of 3-4 shots. Everyone should be vaccinated, be it adults, teenagers, babies, or even elderly people. There is a combination vaccine available called as Twinrix, which protects the body from both hepatitis A and hepatitis B viruses. Other preventive measures aside from vaccination include:
- Covering all open cuts or wounds. Hepatitis B virus from infected individuals can easily enter open wounds.
- Do not share any of your personal stuff such as your comb, razor, toothbrush, and towels with anyone.
- Use a condom while having sex.
- Do not share chewing gums or any other food.
- Make sure that the needles used for dispensing medicine and for ear piercing are properly sterilized before use.
- Maintain a good health by following a balanced diet, giving your body adequate rest, and doing regular exercises.
- If you have to touch blood, then ensure that you wear disposable latex gloves.
For patients who are suffering from acute hepatitis B, treatment with medications is usually not recommended. In case if the virus is multiplying and it is a case of a chronic infection, then one can take in antiviral medications. For those who have liver damage, cirrhosis can also have medicine prescribed by the doctor.
Those individuals who have a severe case of liver damage, antiviral medications would not have much of an effect. One should understand the pros and cons of medications before prescribing them. The benefits of the treatment should be weighed against the risks.
One should note that medications do not cure the disease, especially if it is chronic hepatitis B. It only tends to suppress the symptoms of the infection.
Choice of Medications
- Interferons such as interferon alfa-2b and pegylated interferon alfa-2a.
- NRTIs or nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors such as tenofovir, adefovir, lamivudine, or entecavir.
Interferons are known to have certain side effects such as fever, headache, or hair loss. In worse conditions, it can also cause mental problems or further complexities. There are chances that the virus can get active again after a hepatitis treatment. For individuals who have cirrhosis, they cannot have interferons. They can take tenofovir, entecavir, or lamivudine instead.
Coping with Hepatitis B
If you have been diagnosed with hepatitis B, then the following suggestions can help you cope with the disease:
- Take good care of yourself: Ensure that you eat fresh fruits and vegetables. Get enough sleep since your body needs ample rest in such situations. Do not allow stress to affect you.
- Exercise regularly: Consult your doctor or a physical fitness trainer on the type of exercises that you can do. Do not let the body get lethargic and also do not put a strain on the body by carrying out strenuous exercises. Go in for mild or moderate types of exercises.
- Avoid alcohol consumption: Anyone who has a liver problem should avoid drinking alcohol since it can speed up cirrhosis or scarring of the liver.
- Avoid taking OTC drugs: Without the consultation of the doctor, do not go in for any over-the-counter or prescription drugs to avoid drug interactions.
- Vaccination: Get tested for hepatitis A and C. If you have not yet been exposed to hepatitis A, then get vaccinated against it at the earliest.
As mentioned earlier, hepatitis B does not spread through casual contact. Hence, do not cut yourself off from those people or friends who can provide support in tough times. Being alone will only lead to anxiety or depression.
To learn more about the disease, you can find information on the internet or learn more from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Who should take hepatitis B vaccinations?
If a person is vaccinated with a hepatitis B vaccine, then there are no chances of the disease attacking you. The vaccination is given as 3-4 shots over a period of six months. A hepatitis B vaccine is very much recommended for the following groups of people:
- Individuals suffering from a chronic liver problem
- People who are planning to travel or go to an area that has a high hepatitis B infection rate
- Children or adolescents who have not been vaccinated at birth
- Individuals having multiple sex partners
- Sexual partners of people who are already infected with the hepatitis B virus
- Individuals who are HIV-positive
- Emergency responders and healthcare workers who usually come in contact with blood
- Men who have sex with men
- Individuals who take prohibited drugs through injections
- Disabled individuals who live in an institutional setting and staff areas
- Individuals suffering from a severe kidney problem