Hepatitis B: causes, symptoms, & treatment
Hepatitis B is a contagious liver disease caused by hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection.
Most people can fight off a hepatitis B infection without treatment. But people who can’t clear the virus develop a life-long infection (chronic hepatitis B). In these people, the infection can cause permanent liver damage, and even death.
There is no cure for chronic hepatitis B infection. An estimated 350 million people around the world suffer from it.
How do you get hepatitis B?
You can get hepatitis B by having unprotected oral, vaginal, or anal sex with an infected person.
Other ways you can get hepatitis B are:
- Sharing contaminated hypodermic needles
- Sharing razors or toothbrushes with an infected person
- Using non-sterilised equipment for body piercing, acupuncture, or tattooing
- Having a contaminated blood transfusion
- During delivery, from an infected mother to her baby
You cannot get hepatitis B by sharing food, sharing water, hugging, kissing, coughing, sneezing, or breastfeeding.
Certain things may increase your chance of getting hepatitis B:
- Injecting drugs
- Being a dialysis patient
- Living with someone with a chronic hepatitis B infection
- Being exposed to blood during your work
How do you protect yourself from getting hepatitis B?
1. Get Vaccinated.
Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent HBV infection. In order to get the full benefit of being vaccinated, you need to have three shots over a period of three to six months.
2. Use sterilised needles.
Every time you get a blood transfusion make sure you receive sterilised needles. The principle is the same if you use injection drugs – make sure you use a new sterilised needle, and don’t share needles.
3. Always use condoms.
What are the signs that you have hepatitis B?
Most people who have a hepatitis B infection also show signs of infection. A smaller proportion (30 per cent) of adults don’t have any symptoms but are still infected with the virus.
Hepatitis B symptoms usually show up within six weeks to six months after infection. And the symptoms are the same in women and men. They tend to begin with flu-like signs including fever and tiredness. Some people may experience nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea, along with loss of appetite and weight loss.
Other signs of hepatitis B infection include:
- Abdominal pain
- Dark urine
- Joint pain
- Jaundice (yellow skin and yellow eyes)
- Itchy skin
How do you get tested for hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B can be diagnosed with a simple blood test.
If you think you could have been infected recently, you may be advised to wait up to two months before getting tested. This is because it could take this long for the virus and its effects on the body to show up in a blood test.
If your doctor suspects you have a chronic hepatitis B infection, you might have other tests. You may be tested for liver damage or cancer using an ultrasound scan. And depending on the severity of the infection, the doctor may take a sample of your liver (biopsy) to find out whether you’ve got liver damage or cancer.
How do you get rid of hepatitis B?
For 95 percent of adults, their body will clear the virus within four to eight weeks without vaccination. During these two months, it’s still possible to pass on the infection to someone else. If your body successfully clears the hepatitis B infection, you’ll be immune to the virus for the rest of your life.
In the remaining five percent of people infected with hepatitis B, their body is unable to clear the virus. Some of these people go on to develop liver cancer and may die from liver failure.
If you’re one of the five percent with a chronic hepatitis B infection there is no cure. But it’s possible to remain free of symptoms for up to 20 years after being infected. Your doctor will recommend you follow a lifestyle that will help keep symptoms at bay.
Chronic hepatitis B treatment
Your doctor will recommend that you eat healthily, drink plenty of fluids, and avoid alcohol, whether you have symptoms or not.
To combat liver damage such as cirrhosis or liver cancer, doctors may prescribe Interferon Alpha, Lamivudine, or Baraclude. All these medications are intended to slow down the multiplication of the virus in your body.