Frequently Asked Questions about Hepatitis B

What is Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis is a disease characterized by liver inflammation. Hepatitis B is a type of hepatitis that is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV).

How is Hepatitis B Spread?

The hepatitis B virus spreads when someone comes into contact with infected blood. Thus, the disease may be spread through:

  • Direct contact with infected blood
  • Having unprotected sex with an infected person
  • Sharing needles among intravenous users
  • Sharing razors and other personal items with infected individuals
  • Being tattooed or pierced with contaminated instruments
  • Blood transfusions
  • Childbirth (passing the virus from mother to child)

How Common is Hepatitis B?

12 million Americans are infected with this disease. Out of this population, one million are chronically infected. It is estimated that each year, up to 40,000 new infections will occur. Also, it is estimated that 5,000 people will die every year due to hepatitis B and the complications arising from the disease.

What Happens Once a Person is Infected?

The hepatitis virus can produce temporary or long-term hepatitis. An initial infection with this virus may not be symptomatic. But when it causes symptoms, a case known as acute hepatitis, most people will clear the virus from their bodies. However, some people will experience a long-term infection, which is known as chronic hepatitis.During chronic hepatitis, the hepatitis symptoms disappear then recur later. Individuals with chronic hepatitis are highly infectious, and they can pass on the virus to other people.

Some people are unable to get rid of the infection from their bodies. But they don’t show any symptoms of the disease. Such people are known as carriers. These people can also infect others with the disease.

What are the Symptoms of Hepatitis B?

The initial signs of acute hepatitis B differ. They include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Itching
  • Fever
  • Abdominal pain
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of the sex drive
  • Sleep disturbance

These symptoms may be accompanied by a yellowing of the skin and eyes, and a darkening of the urine, a condition known as jaundice.

What is the Prognosis of Hepatitis B?

Most people will recover from acute hepatitis B, and they are no longer infected when the illness ceases. However, about 10 percent of the adults may acquire chronic hepatitis. These people remain infected by the virus and can in turn experience chronic liver disease. They can also infect other people with the virus.

Individuals with chronic hepatitis B may remain symptom-free for an extended duration, but eventually the symptoms recur. When they reappear, they may include:

  • Jaundice (yellow eyes and skin)
  • Fatigue
  • Decreased appetite
  • Aching joints
  • An ill feeling

How is Hepatitis B Diagnosed?

The doctor will inquire about any potential exposure to hepatitis B. One may be asked about unprotected sexual activity or any illicit drugs use. The doctor will examine the eyes, skin, and abdomen of the patient for any evidence of fluid accumulation. The physician will also estimate the size of the liver to see if it corresponds to the infection.

The doctor will require a blood test and check the patient’s liver function for any damage to the liver. Also, blood tests can be used to confirm the diagnosis of hepatitis B. They can detect the presence and quantity of the hepatitis B virus in the patient’s blood. These tests can also detect the antibodies of the virus.

Is There Treatment for Hepatitis B?

No cure has been found for acute hepatitis yet. However, treatment is done to reduce the amount of the virus in a patient’s body and relieve the inflammation that produces the symptoms. People with chronic hepatitis B may be given antiviral drugs. These may be administered to a patient with significant scarring and inflammation of the liver. Individuals with chronic liver disease that is getting worse can be given a liver transplant.

How is Hepatitis B Prevented?

One can prevent hepatitis B by avoiding exposure to this virus:

  • Avoid sharing needles used in injecting intravenous drugs
  • Avoid having unprotected sex

In the US, all children are given a hepatitis B vaccine. Those adults at high exposure risk should also be immunized.

It is advisable that if one suspects the possibility of infection, he or she should seek medical help as soon as possible.