Hepatitis B (HBV)
While there is no permanent cure for hepatitis B, 90 percent of adults infected with the virus ultimately recover from their symptoms within a few months.

Hepatitis B is a serious liver disease caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). It is characterized by inflammation of the liver that may lead to cirrhosis (scarring and hardening of the liver tissues), liver damage, liver cancer, and, sometimes, even death.

Babies who get hepatitis B at birth are more likely to get a chronic infection. However, in adults, it may not last long because the body fights off the infection within a few months, making them immune for the rest of their life.

There is no permanent cure available yet. However, for chronic hepatitis B, maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle, avoiding alcohol, and proper treatment can slow down the disease progression, reduce the chances of liver cancer, and increase the chances of surviving.

An annual visit to the doctor is highly recommended to determine liver health using blood and imaging tests. Early detection leads to a better treatment outcome.

What is hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV) that can affect people of all ages and is commonly found throughout the world.

Around the world, there are about 292 million infected people. The United States alone exceeds 2 million infections.

2 types of hepatitis B

  1. Acute: An initial infection caused by the hepatitis B virus. Most people (approximately four out of every five infected adults) can recover from this acute infection.
  2. Chronic: If the infection lasts for more than six months, it is termed chronic hepatitis B, which is the type that leads to severe liver inflammation, scarring, and liver cancer.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis B?

Some may not show any signs and symptoms, whereas some recently infected people may present with mild to intense symptoms that last for weeks, which may include:

How does hepatitis B spread?

A person may get infected with the hepatitis B virus through exposure to body fluids of an infected person, such as blood and semen.

People can get the infection by:

  • Unprotected sex with the infected person
  • Sharing or using infected needles for medications, drugs, piercings, and tattoos
  • Sharing daily routine items (containing body fluids), such as toothbrushes, nail cutters, razors, or piercing jewelry
  • Getting treated with unsterile or infected surgical instruments
  • Getting bitten by the infected person
  • Being born to an infected pregnant female
  • Blood transfusions and organ transplants

Be aware that hepatitis B does not spread by:

  • Hugging, shaking hands, or touching
  • Cheek or lip kissing
  • Sneezing or coughing
  • Consuming food prepared or touched by an infected person
  • Breastfeeding (mother to child transmission is negligible through breastfeeding if the baby receives timely hepatitis B immunoglobulin and vaccine)
  • Sharing utensils, such as spoons or forks

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Risk factors of hepatitis B virus

People who unknowingly carry the virus in their blood without any signs and symptoms and can infect others are called “hepatitis B carriers.” (Children born to infected mothers are at a higher risk of being carriers.)

People at risk for getting hepatitis B infection include:

  • People having unprotected sex or are diagnosed with other sexually transmitted diseases
  • Children born to infected women
  • Health-care providers
  • People who tend to share needles
  • People living in high-risk countries
  • Vulnerable people living in prisons and old age homes
  • People on dialysis
  • Men who have sex with men
  • Human immunodeficiency virus-positive people

3 ways to diagnose hepatitis B

The virus can get easily detected within 30 to 60 days of infection or almost after 90 days of initial exposure to the virus. Most people often get to know they are infected when they opt for blood donations.

The three primary ways to diagnose hepatitis B virus (HBV) include:

  1. Blood examination: A blood serum or plasma test enables one to know the presence of the virus.
    • Hepatitis B surface antigen and antibody (HBsAg): Antigens are proteins present on the HBV, and antibodies are proteins made by the immune cells of the body. These may be seen in the blood between 1 and 10 weeks after exposure and may vanish once you recover after four to six months.
    • Hepatitis B surface antibody (anti-HBs): These antibodies are responsible for lifelong immunity and are seen in the blood once the hepatitis antigen disappears.
  2. Abdominal ultrasonography: An ultrasound shows the size, shape, and blood flow to the liver.
  3. Liver biopsy: Liver tissue sample is removed through a small incision and analyzed under the microscope.

How is hepatitis B treated?

More than 90 percent of adults infected with hepatitis B ultimately recover from their symptoms.

Acute hepatitis B

Medical treatment is not required. The healthcare provider may recommend:

  • Plenty of fluids
  • Adequate rest
  • Maintaining a healthy diet
  • Avoiding alcohol consumption

Chronic hepatitis B

Drug therapy is recommended for active liver disease.

  • Injectable interferons, such as interferon alfa and pegylated interferon.
  • Antivirals, such as adefovir dipivoxil, entecavir, lamivudine, telbivudine, and tenofovir alafenamide

In rare cases of advanced hepatitis B, a liver transplant may be done.

Can hepatitis B be prevented?

Hepatitis B virus is contagious. The best way to prevent the infection is by getting vaccinated.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the vaccine is 98 to 100 percent effective in guarding against the virus, safe, and widely available.

Though not confirmed, some studies suggest vaccine effectiveness lasts for the entire life, and a few studies speculate it to be effective for 20 years. If a person is exposed to the hepatitis B virus (HBV) and is not vaccinated against HBV or they aren’t sure of their vaccination status, the doctor may administer hepatitis B immunoglobulin, preferably within 12 hours of the exposure to prevent the disease. This may be followed by vaccination against hepatitis B.

Other precautionary measures may include:

  • Safe sex using a latex condom
  • Safe and sterile needles and injections
  • Hygienic practices at tattoo making and piercing shops
  • Screening before blood donations
  • Not sharing personal items

6 complications of hepatitis B

Long-term effects of hepatitis B include:

  1. Chronic hepatitis B infection
  2. Becoming a hepatitis B carrier
  3. Cirrhosis of the liver
  4. Liver cancer
  5. Liver failure
  6. Death

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Medically Reviewed on 3/16/2022
References
Image Source: iStock Images

Cleveland Clinic. Hepatitis B. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4246-hepatitis-b

Planned Parenthood. Hepatitis B. https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/stds-hiv-safer-sex/hepatitis-b

Hepatitis B Foundation. Is there a cure for hepatitis B. https://www.hepb.org/what-is-hepatitis-b/faqs/is-there-a-cure-for-hepatitis-b/

WebMD. Hepatitis B. https://www.webmd.com/hepatitis/digestive-diseases-hepatitis-b