Hepatitis B – A treatable disease
What is Hepatitis B ?
Hepatitis B is a viral infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Hepatitis B causes inflammation and swelling of the liver (acute hepatitis) and prevents it from working well. It may persist in the liver, and over many years can cause cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver that can lead to liver failure. Hepatitis B infection is the most important cause of liver cancer all over the world.
How does one get Hepatitis B ?
Hepatitis B virus is spread by contact with blood or other infectious body fluids. Adults get Hepatitis B through infected blood transfusion, contaminated needles and sexual transmission from a hepatitis B infected partner. Children usually get Hepatitis B from their mother during childbirth. Hepatitis B virus is not spread by air, food, or water.
Who is at risk of having Hepatitis B ?
Hepatitis B is very common in India. About 3 – 5 percent of all Indians have chronic hepatitis B infection. Certain practices like reuse of needles and syringes in hospitals and clinics in the past, tattooing using unclean and contaminated needles, & unregulated and unsafe blood transfusion has increased the risk of transmission of hepatitis B in our country. In view of the high prevalence of hepatitis B, everyone should get tested for hepatitis B.
What are the phases and symptoms of Hepatitis B infection ?
Infection with hepatitis B can cause both short-term (acute) disease and long-term (chronic) disease. Patient with acute HBV infections get symptoms such as loss of appetite, weakness, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, jaundice (yellow skin or eyes), and dark urine. The acute phase usually lasts 2-8 weeks and most patients recover completely. Few individuals develop a severe form of acute infection and can die as a result of liver failure. Some adults and almost all children who get infected during birth go on to develop chronic hepatitis B infection. These individuals often do not feel sick for many years. With progression of disease, liver failure develops and patients develop jaundice (yellowness of the eyes and skin), swelling of the legs (edema), fluid in the abdomen (ascites), vomiting of blood, and mental confusion.
What are the long term consequences of Hepatitis B ?
Hepatitis B damages the liver slowly over a period of 20-30 years. About 20 percent of patients with untreated hepatitis B progress to liver cirrhosis which is scarring of the liver. Once cirrhosis develops patients are at a risk of developing liver failure.
Are patients with Hepatitis B at risk of developing liver cancer ?
Hepatitis B is the most common cause of liver cancer all over the world. One in 20 people with hepatitis B will develop liver cancer. The risk is more in patients with chronic hepatitis B who have progressed to cirrhosis. Risk also depends on the amount of virus in the blood. Patients with chronic hepatitis B should regularly do ultrasound scans to detect small liver cancers at an early stage. Small cancers can be effectively treated.
How is Hepatitis B diagnosed ?
Hepatitis B can be easily diagnosed by simple blood tests. A blood test (known as HBsAg)can determine whether a person is infected or not. It is also possible to know the amount of hepatitis virus in the blood by performing a test known as Hepatitis B virus DNA PCR. In patients who are not infected with hepatitis B, it is possible to know whether they have enough immunity (protection) that will protect them from developing hepatitis B in the future.
What should you do if you are diagnosed to have Hepatitis B ?
Eat healthy meals, exercise and lose weight if you are overweight
Consult a liver disease expert (Hepatologist) and perform special tests to determine whether you need treatment
Talk to your doctor about specific treatments for Hepatitis B
DO NOT RESORT TO USE OF HERBAL MEDICINES. These can damage the liver and can cause liver failure
Avoid alcohol completely
Ask all your family members including spouse, siblings and children to get tested for Hepatitis B by doing a test known as HBsAg
How is Hepatitis B treated ?
If you have HBV, it is important to talk to your doctor about treatment options. There is a difference between treatment of acute hepatitis B and chronic hepatitis B infection. Most patients who develop acute hepatitis B infection recover on their own without any specific treatment. Your doctor will recommend bed rest, drinking lots of fluids, eating a healthy diet and avoiding alcohol. However, patients with chronic hepatitis B infection and those with hepatitis B related cirrhosis need specific medicines which act against the hepatitis B virus. Treatment depends on the amount of hepatitis B virus in the blood and this is determined by performing a blood test known as Hepatitis B virus DNA PCR. Some commonly used medicines for treatment of Hepatitis B are Entecavir and Tenofovir. These oral medications are usually required for several years and sometimes lifelong. Some patients may benefit from injections known as Pegylated Interferon. These injections are usually given once a week for up to one year.
What is the best way to stop the spread of Hepatitis B ?
Hepatitis B vaccination is the most effective way to prevent infection. The hepatitis B vaccine is given in 3 doses over a period of six months. After the vaccination course is completed it is important to do a blood test to check whether the vaccine is working or not. This form of blood test detects the level of protective antibodies in the blood (Anti HBs titer). All children should ideally be vaccinated at birth. However, vaccine can be taken by people of all age groups. Your doctor may advise some tests before you take the vaccine.
Hepatitis B : Facts at a Glance
Hepatitis B is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV).
Adults get Hepatitis B through infected blood transfusion, contaminated needles and sexual transmission from a hepatitis B infected partner.
Children usually get Hepatitis B from their mother during childbirth.
About 1 in 20 Indians are infected with Hepatitis B.
Most people with Hepatitis B have no symptoms.
Hepatitis B can be easily diagnosed by a simple blood test.
There are effective medications to treat Hepatitis B.
Untreated Hepatitis B can lead to cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, liver cancer, and liver failure.
Vaccination is the best way to prevent Hepatitis B.