Hepatitis B Involved & Aware
About Hepatitis B...
The liver performs more than 500 functions. One of its most important functions is to convert food into nutrients and store energy. Its other functions are:
- Clearing the blood of infections
- Converting drugs and toxins into harmless substances
- Manufacturing the bile, which is used for the fat digestion
- Storage of iron, vitamins and other essential chemicals
- Stopping bleeding with certain factors, which are produced within the liver itself
If the liver is damaged in any way, it loses its ability to function properly.
The word hepatitis means inflammation or swelling of the liver. There can be many causes of hepatitis and when it is caused by a viral infection it is called as viral hepatitis. There are many types of viruses that can cause hepatitis; one of them is called as the hepatitis B virus. Some people who get infected with hepatitis B only develop an acute, or short-term, illness (infection for less than 6 months) while others can go on to develop a chronic, or long-term, illness (infection present for more than 6 months), which is commonly called as chronic hepatitis B.
There are various other types of hepatitis, such as hepatitis A, C, D and E. Even if you have any of these, you still have the chance of getting hepatitis B.
The hepatitis B virus multiplies in the liver cells. The body, in self-defence, tries to destroy the virus by killing the infected cells. Unfortunately, it is during this self-defence or immune response that most of the damage also occurs to the liver. As the virus infects and destroys more and more liver cells, the liver slowly begins to fail. It finally becomes hard and scarred, which is medically called as cirrhosis; sometimes, this can develop into liver cancer.
If you have chronic hepatitis B infection, you are not alone. Worldwide, around 350-400 million people suffer from chronic hepatitis B. Most people with chronic hepatitis B are infected with the virus at birth or during early childhood.
Over time, approximately 15-25% of people with chronic hepatitis B develop serious liver problems, including cirrhosis, liver failure, or liver cancer and this can be fatal. However, with new medicines that are now available, you can expect a good outcome.
Hepatitis B is usually spread when blood or other body fluids like semen, from a hepatitis B-infected person enters the body of someone who is not infected; this can happen through direct contact with the blood or the other body fluids, or if the person has open cuts or wounds.
Also, the hepatitis B virus has been detected in low concentrations in other body fluids such as tears, sweat, urine, stools, and breast milk; however, none of these fluids cause the spread of the disease.
Many of those people who are infected are not aware that they have hepatitis B since, most of the time, they have no symptoms. As a result, they can spread the disease to others, including people they live with, and their sexual partners; in the case of women, the disease can also be passed on to their newborn children.
Some people have symptoms like fever, tiredness, stomach pain, lack of appetite or vomiting.
In serious cases, some people may have jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), dark yellow urine and light-coloured stools.
You could have been infected with hepatitis B if
- Your mother was infected with hepatitis B when you were born
- You had sex with an infected person
- You lived/live with an infected person and have come in contact with his\her blood
- You have received blood transfusion from an infected person
- You have a history of sharing needles, syringes, or of drug abuse; or
- You are a healthcare worker and were exposed to blood at work
Hepatitis B is NOT spread by
- Sharing food or water,
- Sneezing or coughing,
- Casual contact such as shaking hands or hugging, and
- Sharing utensils or eating food prepared by an infected person
You can go for a test either voluntarily or as per your doctor's advice. However, testing for hepatitis B is recommended for certain high risk group of people. High risk people are those who include:
- People born in regions with moderate or high rates of hepatitis B infection.
- Anyone having sex with a person infected with hepatitis B (either heterosexual or homosexual).
- If you live with someone who is infected with hepatitis B.
- Injection drug users (using presently, or were doing so in the past).
- All pregnant women.
- People with HIV or AIDS.
- People with certain medical conditions who receive haemodialysis (a procedure used in the case of kidney failure), or who are undergoing cancer therapy.
- Testing is the best way to find out if you or anyone else you know has chronic hepatitis B or not. Many people with chronic hepatitis B don't know they are infected since they don't look or feel sick.
- Early diagnosis and getting appropriate medical care can help you in preventing complications associated with chronic hepatitis B.
- In addition, testing can identify at-risk household members and sexual partners so they can be tested, and if uninfected, vaccinated to protect them from getting hepatitis B.
There are many tests that doctors use, which help them in assessing liver damage, or knowing if there are chances of future liver damage from hepatitis B. Most of the important blood tests look for the amount of multiplying virus (viral load), or substances that identify the virus in the blood (which are called antigens or the antibodies and are produced by your immune system to kill the virus). There are also tests to see whether your liver is functioning properly. In some cases, a liver ultrasound or liver biopsy (removal of a tiny piece of liver under local anaesthesia to check for any damage in the liver) are also done.
There are fair chances of complete cure for hepatitis B with the available new antiviral drugs. However these medicines are to be used for longer duration, perhaps for a few years. Several new drugs are available that can delay or reverse the effects of liver disease. You should discuss these treatment options available with your doctor. Sometimes, long-term treatment with such drugs can result in the hepatitis B virus becoming resistant to the medication. In such cases, your doctor will need to change your course of treatment. However do not discontinue or change treatment without consulting your doctor.
By stopping the virus from multiplying in the liver, the medicines reduce liver damage and can help delay the development of complications like liver failure, cirrhosis and in some cases liver cancer. They are usually taken for a long time and they work as long as you take them.
- Practice safe sex and get your sex partner(s) tested for hepatitis B infection. If your partner does not have hepatitis B, he or she should be vaccinated.
- Make sure that all household and family members get tested and vaccinated for hepatitis B.
- Cover all cuts and open wounds with a bandage.
- Wash your hands well after touching your blood or body fluids. In case of any blood spills over the floor, clean them up with concentrated household bleach.
- Do not share toothbrushes, razors, ear piercing needles, nail cutters, washcloths, or anything that may have come in contact with your blood or body fluids.
- Do not share food that has been in your mouth.
- Do not share syringes and needles, or donate blood, body organs or tissue.
- Tell healthcare workers (including dentists) that you are hepatitis B-positive, particularly in case of women during pregnancy.
- If someone is exposed to your blood, be it a family member, a friend, or even a stranger - ensure that the person gets preventive treatment.
If the exposed person receives a hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG) injection (which contains antibodies against the hepatitis B virus) and starts the hepatitis B vaccine series within a few days, then that person has an excellent chance of being protected from Hepatitis B. Contact your doctor for further details.
- You should see a doctor regularly or at least every 6-12 months to check out the condition of your liver.
- Ask your doctor before taking any prescription pills or over-the-counter medications, including herbal supplements or vitamins, as they can potentially damage the liver.
- Alcohol should also be avoided, since it can increase liver damage.
- Eat a normal, healthy diet.
- Not all hepatitis B patients require treatment. Discuss with your doctor if you need anti-hepatitis B virus medication as these medicines are given to only certain people with chronic liver disease.
- If you have liver damage from hepatitis B, you should get tested for hepatitis C and also get vaccinated against hepatitis A, if needed.
You should not quit working or going to school, or stop other daily activities because of having hepatitis B infection.
The answer is YES. The best way to prevent hepatitis B is by getting vaccinated.
Unfortunately, if you are already infected with hepatitis B, the vaccine does not provide protection against the disease.
But, if uninfected, vaccination is the best solution.
For adults, the hepatitis B vaccine is usually given as a course of 3 injections over a 6-month period. In order to prevent the spread of infection, uninfected sexual partners and family members of anyone infected with hepatitis B should be vaccinated. People with certain risk factors and medical conditions should also be tested and vaccinated.
For treatment of hepatitis B during pregnancy, discuss with your doctor.
Your baby can get infected with hepatitis B during birth, but this can be prevented.
- Make sure that your baby gets injection called hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG) and the first dose of hepatitis B vaccine within 12 hours of birth.
- Your baby should get a blood test after the vaccine series is completed to be sure he or she is protected.
- Ask your doctor when your baby should get the next doses of hepatitis B vaccine.
You can breastfeed your baby if he/she has received hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG) and hepatitis B vaccine.
You will find more details about hepatitis B on any of these websites:
This leaflet is intended as a guide only. The information given here is current at the time of printing, but may change in the future. If you have further questions, you should discuss them with your family doctor.
- http://www.gesa.org.au/pdf/HepB_3Ed 07.pdf