What is Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is an infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Hepatitis, the inflammation of the liver - may be caused by a variety of viruses or other infections, medications, or a toxin such as alcohol but is mostly caused by viruses.
Viruses that can cause Hepatitis are numerous but the most common are Hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E. These viruses are not related to each other and they differ in their structure, the mode of spread, the severity of symptoms, the way they are treated, and the outcome of the infection. Hepatitis B is the most common of all. Approximately 2 billion individuals in the world have evidence of past or present hepatitis B, and about 320 million people are currently infected with Hepatitis, 70% of which is caused by Hepatitis B.
How Does Hepatitis B Cause Liver Disease?
The hepatitis B virus reproduces in liver cells, but the virus itself is not the direct cause of damage to the liver. Rather, the presence of the virus triggers an immune response from the body as the body tries to eliminate the virus and recover from the infection. This immune response causes inflammation and may seriously injure liver calls.
How Is The Virus Transmitted?
Hepatitis B is spread mainly by exposure to infected blood or body secretions. In infected individuals, the virus can be found in the blood and blood products, semen, vaginal discharge, breast milk, and saliva. Hepatitis B is not spread through food, water, or by casual contact.
Sexual contact is a common means of transmission, followed by using contaminated needles for injecting illicit drugs, tattooing, body piercing, or acupuncture. Additionally, hepatitis B can be transmitted through sharing toothbrushes and razors contaminated with infected fluids or blood. Hepatitis B also may be spread from infected mothers to their babies at birth which is commonest in regions of the world where hepatitis B rates are high.
What Symptoms Are Seen In Hepatitis B Infection?
The liver is a vital organ that has many functions. In the early period of infection, hepatitis is usually silent and causes no symptoms. This is the acute phase of illness and only a third of adults develop symptoms. Early symptoms may include:
- Loss of appetite,
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), and
- Pain in the upper right abdomen (due to the inflamed liver).
Only about 6 – 10% of adults go on to develop a chronic hepatitis infection after the acute period due to the inability of the body to clear the infection and recover but development to chronic disease can be up to 90% in children under 5 especially due to their weak immune system. People who recover and eliminate the virus will develop life-long immunity, that is, protection from subsequent infection from hepatitis B.
The symptoms of chronic hepatitis B vary widely depending on the severity of the liver damage. They range from few and relatively mild symptoms to symptoms of severe liver disease (cirrhosis or liver failure) that may be life-threatening. Most individuals with chronic hepatitis B remain symptom-free for many years or decades. Significant amounts of scarring and cirrhosis lead to liver dysfunction. Symptoms seen then may include:
- Loss of appetite,
- Weight loss,
- Breast enlargement in men,
- A rash on the palms,
- Bleeding abnormalities
- Spider-like blood vessels on the skin.
- Impaired vision at night and thinning of bones (osteoporosis).
- Recurrent infections
- Confusion and even coma
- Abdominal swelling
- Kidney failure
- Yellowness of the eyes
Patients with chronic hepatitis B are at risk of developing liver cancer.
How is Hepatitis Diagnosed?
Infection with hepatitis B is suspected when the medical history and the physical examination reveal risk factors for the infection or symptoms and signs that are suggestive of hepatitis B. The diagnosis of hepatitis B can be made only with specific hepatitis B virus blood tests.
How Is Hepatitis B Treated?
Hepatitis B infection is treated with antiviral drugs that suppress viral reproduction. The medications are also effective in reducing inflammation and improving blood tests. This can delay or reduce complications such as cirrhosis. Liver transplantation is also an option
How Can Hepatitis B Be Prevented?
Hepatitis B is preventable through vaccination. All children should receive the vaccine. In addition, adults at high risk for hepatitis B should be vaccinated. The hepatitis B vaccine is part of the National Immunization Scheme
Article By: Dr Leke Odufuye