Hepatitis B: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, And Treatment

Hepatitis B is part of the hepatitis family of infectious diseases that are caused by viruses. All of the diseases that are classified as hepatitis affect the liver. Hepatitis B, in particular, can lead to both acute and chronic health effects. The infection can spread rather easily and affects quite a large percentage of the worldwide population.

Affected individuals are not always symptomatic, but may instead have the virus present in their system – in such a case, the disease may spread to others and cause symptoms to develop. While certain complications that are associated with the disease can lead to possibly fatal complications, prevention is possible through a safe vaccine, which is readily available at certain health centers.

What Is Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is an infection that is caused by specific pathogenic viruses. When infected, the virus starts to multiply in the liver, causing the liver to suffer from Hepatitis B infection. This viral liver infection is considered a public health epidemic throughout the entire world today.

The virus can spread from an infected person to a person who has not been exposed to the infection previously in different ways, including through blood contact. When a woman has chronic Hepatitis B, then she can also carry the virus over to her baby during pregnancy.

In addition to being able to spread through contact with blood from an infected person, the virus that causes the Hepatitis B infection can also spread through a number of other bodily fluids, such as:

  • Saliva
  • Fluids expelled during menstruation
  • Vaginal fluids
  • Seminal fluids

This means Hepatitis B can also b/e classified as a sexually transmittable infection. A 2007 study also found the Hepatitis B virus present in the sweat of infected individuals, making this another possible mechanism of transmission for the infection.

It is also important to note that one study explains that the virus can survive outside of the body for as much as five days. Some publications have also claimed that the survival rate of the Hepatitis B virus outside the human body may be up to seven days.

A recent review paper estimates that over two billion individuals have been infected by the Hepatitis B virus in the past (worldwide statistics). The paper also estimates that as much as 350 million people may be living with chronic Hepatitis B at the moment.

What Are The Difference Between Acute And Chronic Hepatitis B?

The Hepatitis B infection is acute during the initial infection phase. In many cases, a person would not even know that they were exposed to the virus and not even develop symptoms. If the virus stays active within their body and unable to eliminate the virus within six months following the initial infection, then the patient is considered to be suffering from chronic Hepatitis B infection.

Younger people are more likely to develop a chronic Hepatitis B infection than older people. It is estimated that around 90% of all infants that are infected with the virus will develop a chronic infection. In children between the ages of one and five, the risk drops from 90% to 50%. Older individuals, with a particular focus on those older than 19, tend to recover easily – only around 5% to 10% go on to develop chronic Hepatitis B.

Can A Person Die From Hepatitis B?

The recognition of Hepatitis B is vital due to the potential long-term complications that may be caused by the virus, should it become a chronic disease in an affected individual. It is estimated that up to 25% of the population with chronic Hepatitis B will experience liver problems as a complication.

The potential liver complications associated with this condition include:

  • Cirrhosis
  • Serious liver damage
  • Liver failure
  • Liver cancer

Due to the essential roles that the liver plays in the human body, the development of these complications can become life-threatening. As much as 600,000 patients with chronic Hepatitis B die each year due to the liver-related complications caused by the infection.


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What Are The Symptoms Of Hepatitis B?

The majority of people who are infected by the Hepatitis B virus will not experience any symptoms at all, even when the virus lurks in their system. Instead, the virus may slowly cause damage to their liver. There are, however some people who may develop symptoms in response to the presence of the Hepatitis B virus in their bodies. These symptoms may include:

  • Muscle pain
  • Fatigue and feeling tired in general
  • Stomach upset and abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • A loss of their appetite
  • Stools may be light-colored
  • Urine may be a dark-yellow color

Jaundice may also develop in a patient who is infected with the Hepatitis B virus. In such a case, the patient’s skin and eyes may develop a yellowish tone.

What Are The Causes Of Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a transmittable infection that causes scarring and tissue damage in the liver. The disease cannot be obtained without physical contact with certain bodily fluids from someone who has previously been infected with the virus. While physical contact with such a person, through sexual intercourse and other means, places an uninfected person at particularly high risk, physical contact with bodily fluids itself can also spread the virus – the Hepatitis B virus can live outside of a host for a week.

How Does Physicians Diagnose Hepatitis B?

Since this viral infection does not always cause symptoms, routine checks for the presence of the Hepatitis B virus in a patient’s body is highly advised. This can help to address the issue and avoid potential liver damage and other complications that may become life-threatening.

A diagnosis for Hepatitis B can only be made after a blood test has been conducted on a suspected patient. During the analysis of the blood sample, the laboratory handling the tests will look for the presence of particular compounds that have been associated with the infection. The compounds that the blood sample will be screened for include:

  • Hepatitis B Core Antibody, or HBcAb
  • Hepatitis B Surface Antibody, or HBsAb
  • Hepatitis B Surface Antigen, or HBsAg
  • Hepatitis B Virus, or HBV

A diagnosis will be made according to the findings of these four tests. Positive or negative feedback needs to be provided for all four compounds before an accurate diagnosis can be made. When all tests come back negative, a person is considered to be at risk of being infected with the virus and is advised to obtain a vaccine.


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Are Vaccines Effective Against This Virus Infection?

Hundreds of awareness campaigns have been launched to help the world realize the importance of being vaccinated against the Hepatitis B virus. Prevention is the better approach since the development of chronic Hepatitis B has been linked to liver cancer and other potentially life-threatening problems.

The vaccine used to prevent the Hepatitis B infection is made from specific parts of the virus and will not cause a person to develop the infection. Instead, it will help their immune system build up a resistance to the actual virus that causes the infection.

Modern-day healthcare systems recommend infants be vaccinated at the age of six months. Additionally, any person under the age of 19 is at a high risk of developing chronic Hepatitis B once infected with the virus; thus these individuals should also obtain the vaccination to prevent complications should they be exposed to the virus.

Adults considered to be at risk of being exposed to the Hepatitis B virus should also be vaccinated if they have not received the appropriate vaccination in the past. This includes those who are sexually active and not in a monogamous relationship, as well as those who are close to a person infected with the Hepatitis B virus.

A total of three to four vaccinations are given to a person over the course of six months. All shots should be obtained for the vaccination to be effective and to ensure a maximum level of protection against the virus that causes this liver infection.

Conclusion

Hepatitis B is a viral infection that affects the liver. It can be an acute infection that causes symptoms to develop shortly after exposure to the virus, but can also become a chronic disease in an affected person. Once infected, the virus can spread even when the infected person does not experience symptoms associated with the disease. A better understanding of the disease, causes, and symptoms, as well as prevalence, can help to reduce the spread of the infection and also yield better results in affected patients through early detection of the liver infection.


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