Hepatitis B is a potentially serious form of liver inflammation due to infection by the Hepatitis B virus. It occurs in both rapidly developing (acute) and long-lasting (chronic) forms, and is one of the commonest chronic infectious diseases worldwide (the others are the Hepatitis A virus and the Hepatitis C virus).
A person who is chronically infected with the Hepatitis B virus is called a “carrier” of the virus. The risk is maximum for infants born to mothers who are Hepatitis B carriers: without immediate vaccinations, approximately 90% of these babies will develop chronic Hepatitis B infection. Hepatitis B carriers have not developed immunity as a result of infection and may have traces of the Hepatitis B virus in their blood and body fluids for the rest of their lives. At times, there may be ongoing liver damage and at other times, infection may be inactive. Most carriers do not appear sick and remain symptom-free but some will develop cirrhosis and/or liver cancer years after becoming infected with the Hepatitis B virus.
Symptoms develop within 30-180 days of exposure to the virus. A majority of people who become infected with Hepatitis B never feel sick and recover completely. Others get a brief, acute illness with fatigue and loss of appetite and their skin and eyes turn yellow (a condition called “jaundice”). Less than 5% of adults who get acute Hepatitis B develop chronic Hepatitis, which can lead to cirrhosis (liver scarring) and/or cancer of the liver later in life.
The Hepatitis B virus causes Hepatitis B. The virus has an incubation period of two to five months. It replicates in the liver, and virus particles are shed in large amounts into the blood. The blood of infected individuals is thus highly infectious. A person who has acute Hepatitis B or who is a carrier, can spread the Hepatitis B virus to other people through his/her blood and other body fluids or by sexual contact. Hepatitis B does not spread by water, food or by casual contacts that occur at schools or workplaces.
People without immunization who are at risk are:
Hepatitis B is diagnosed through blood tests, which can help show if you have chronic Hepatitis B or another type of hepatitis. The diagnosis of Hepatitis B can be made only with specific Hepatitis B virus blood tests
The tests will show one of the following results:
Yes. There are two types of treatment now available: interferon-alpha and direct inhibitors of the virus, such as Lamivudine or Adefovir.
Interferon-alpha is a natural product of the human body, known to interfere with the reproduction of a virus after infection. For treating chronic Hepatitis B, interferon-alpha works by enhancing the body’s immune activity against the Hepatitis B virus. It is only effective once the immune system has become activated against the Hepatitis B virus. Interferon-alpha is administered by injection either daily or three times per week for four to six months. Some patients may need up to two years of therapy. Interferon is effective in rendering the Hepatitis B virus infection inactive in approximately one third of treated patients.
Lamivudine and Adefovir work directly against the Hepatitis B virus. Clinical studies have shown that these drugs may help control disease progression by suppressing viral reproduction in the liver in most treated patients. It leads to an inactive infection in a minority of patients. Both drugs are taken by mouth once a day and are generally well tolerated. However, therapy may be required for years and in some cases indefinitely.
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