Hepatitis B


Hepatitis B

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Key Factors

  • Hepatitis B is a liver condition caused by the hepatitis B virus.
  • About ⅔ of those infected do not know, but for chronic cases, liver failure or other liver conditions may result.
  • In fact, hepatitis B is a leading cause of liver cancer.
  • About half of hepatitis B patients in the U.S. are of Asian descent.

What is Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis liver, sick liverHepatitis B is a serious liver infection, caused by one of several types of hepatitis viruses.

For patients with acute hepatitis B, the condition lasts less than six months. But if the infection progresses and becomes chronic, symptoms may last more than six months. Chronic hepatitis B also boosts your risk of developing liver failure, liver cancer, or cirrhosis (liver scarring).

The hepatitis B vaccine has proven to be safe and effective in preventing infection.

Learn More About: Hepatitis | Hepatitis A | Hepatitis C

Acute Hepatitis B vs. Chronic Hepatitis B: Main Differences

Put simply, duration is the differentiating factor. Acute hepatitis B infection typically only lasts a few months. Chronic infections, however, last much longer.

Our Charleston GI specialists have provided more details here!

  • Acute hepatitis B: Infection lasts less than six months, with your immune system clearing the virus from your body to allow for a full recovery. Most hepatitis B patients have an acute infection.
  • Chronic hepatitis B: Infection lasts six months or longer, lingering when your immune system is compromised or can't fight off the virus. Chronic hepatitis B infection may even last a lifetime, potentially resulting in serious illnesses such as liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. While some chronic hepatitis B patients do not have any symptoms at all, others may experience persistent fatigue and mild symptoms.

The youngest patients, particularly newborns or children under five years old, face the highest risk of developing a chronic infection. Chronic infection may go undetected for decades until a person becomes seriously ill from liver disease.

Cause 

Hepatitis B infection is caused by the hepatitis B virus – one that is transmitted from person to person through blood, semen, or other body fluids. It does not spread by casual contact, such as sneezing or coughing.

Our gastroenterologists have provided a few examples of ways that hepatitis B can spread.

  • Sexual contact: Unprotected sex with an infected person when bodily fluids enter your body.
  • Sharing of needles: The virus is easily spread through needles and syringes that have been contaminated with infected blood. 
  • Accidental needle sticks: This transmission method is cause for concern for health care workers in particular.  
  • Mother to child: Pregnant women can pass the virus to their babies during childbirth. If the newborn is vaccinated soon after, it can prevent infection in almost all cases. If you are pregnant or are planning to be, consult your doctor about getting tested.

Risk Factors 

These groups of people face an increased risk of getting hepatitis B:

  • Those who engage in unprotected sex with multiple partners or with someone who's infected 
  • People who share needles during IV drug use
  • Men who have sex with men
  • Those who live with someone with a chronic hepatitis infection
  • Infants born to an infected mother
  • Workers whose job duties include contact with human blood
  • Travelers who visit countries with high infection rates

Symptoms

The following symptoms may indicate a hepatitis B infection:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine
  • Fever
  • Joint pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes)

Diagnostic Test 

You GI specialist will likely conduct a physical examination, looking for the following:

  • Enlarged and tender liver
  • Infected fluid in the abdomen (ascites) 
  • Yellowing of the skin

Your gastroenterologist may order laboratory tests to diagnose and monitor your GI condition:

  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Autoimmune blood markers
  • Hepatitis virus serologies
  • Liver function tests
  • Liver biopsy to check for liver damage
  • Paracentesis if fluid is found in your abdomen

If you need a diagnostic test for hepatitis, you can schedule an appointment with Charleston GI. Open 5 days a week, no referral needed!

Treatment

For acute hepatitis B, there is no medication needed to recover. Rest and fluids will likely do the trick. For chronic patients, hepatitis B will be routinely monitored to check for early signs of liver disease. Antiviral drugs may be administered as well.

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Hepatitis B Frequently Asked Questions

How is hepatitis B transmitted? 
The virus is transmitted when blood, semen or other body fluids are passed from an infected patient to another person. Here are some examples:

  • Sex with an infected partner 
  • Sharing needles, syringes, or drug paraphernalia
  • Infected mother to baby during birth
  • Sharing personal hygiene items (toothbrushes, razors, etc.)  
  • Needlesticks or other occupational hazards for medical professionals
  • Direct contact with the blood or open sores of a patient

Can a person spread the hepatitis B virus and not know it?
Absolutely. Many patients do not know that they are infected because they are not showing any symptoms, making it easy to spread the virus.

Can the hepatitis B virus be spread through sex?
Yes, sexual activity is a major mode of transmission. The hepatitis B virus can be found in the blood, semen, and other body fluids of an infected person. 

Is there a vaccine for hepatitis?
Yes, the hepatitis B vaccine is available for all age groups. It is strongly recommended for all infants, children, and teenagers under 19 years of age who have not been vaccinated. The vaccine is also available (and recommended!) for adults and the elderly.

Is the hepatitis B vaccine safe?
Yes, the hepatitis B vaccine is perfectly safe. Soreness at the injection site is the most common side effect. Keep in mind that the safety of vaccines is continually being monitored to maintain high quality standards.

Who should not receive the hepatitis B vaccine?
The hepatitis B vaccine is not recommended for those who have had a serious allergic reaction to a prior dose, to any component of the vaccine, or to yeast.

Is hepatitis contagious?
Yes, hepatitis A, B, and C are all highly contagious. 

Is it sexually transmitted?
Yes, hepatitis B can spread when someone has sex with an infected person. Keep in mind that sexual contact is not the only way to spread the virus!

Does hepatitis go away? 
Yes, hepatitis typically goes away on its own without treatment. Chronic hepatitis, however, may linger long-term and cause liver damage.

Who is most likely to get chronic (long-term) hepatitis B?
When determining if a viral infection becomes chronic, age plays a major role. In fact, the younger a person is when infected, the greater their chance of developing a chronic infection. About nine in ten infants who contract hepatitis B go on to develop a chronic infection. 

The risk of infection drops as a child gets older. About one in three children who contract the virus before age six will develop chronic hepatitis B. On the other hand, almost all older children (over age six) and adults infected with the hepatitis B virus recover fully and do not develop a chronic condition.

How long does the hepatitis B virus survive outside the body? 
The hepatitis B virus can survive outside the body for at least one week and may cause infection at any time during that period. 

Which form of hepatitis is the most dangerous? 
Of all five types (A, B, C, D, E), hepatitis B and C are the most dangerous and may become chronic.

How common is hepatitis B in the United States?
In 2018, 3,322 acute cases were reported to the CDC. Since many people do not show symptoms and may not know that they are infected, the actual number of acute hepatitis B cases may, in fact, be closer to 21,600. Even more people – over 800,00 – are estimated to have chronic hepatitis B.

Is the hepatitis B vaccine recommended before international travel?
Yes, the vaccine is highly recommended before traveling, especially to countries where the hepatitis B vaccine is common. And remember, our Charleston GI specialists advise everyone to get vaccinated, even if they are not leaving the country.


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