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Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B and its Long Term Problems

By STD Concern

Hepatitis B is a kind of viral infection that attacks the liver and can lead to life-long disability, cancer, or even death. It is transmitted through contact with blood or other body fluids that contain the virus. A vaccine against Hepatitis B has been available since 1982 and is 95% effective at preventing infection.

Hepatitis B Transmission

Unlike many STDs, Hepatitis B can live outside the body for extended periods. In fact, it can live for at least 7 days without a human host. This means that objects harboring the virus can still cause infection for a week or more after being contaminated. Hepatitis B is most commonly spread from mother to child during birth but can also be spread through sex, saliva, blood, needles (e.g. tattoo needles), razor blades, and during medical and dental procedures.

Hepatitis B Symptoms

Most people do not know they have Hepatitis B until the infection is quite advanced. During the early phases, Hepatitis B generally does not cause symptoms. In the rare cases that it does cause symptoms, they are generally similar to those of the flu and may include yellowing of the skin, dark urine, nausea, and extreme fatigue. Chronic Hepatitis B infection can lead to severe liver damage and cirrhosis. This can cause yellowing of the skin and eyes, pain, nausea, bloating, problems with blood clotting, and more.

Hepatitis B Diagnosis

Hepatitis B can only be diagnosed with blood tests that look for certain antibodies against the virus. These tests can differentiate between acute and chronic Hepatitis B infection. Hepatitis B cannot be diagnosed by clinical exam or history.


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Hepatitis B Treatment

There is no specific treatment for hepatitis B, but antiviral agents can help to keep the virus under control and prevent long-term complications. Treatment must be continued for a lifetime to be effective and the virus never completely goes away. People with Hepatitis B can infect others at any time, even while they are being treated.

The most common treatments for Hepatitis B are interferon and lamivudine (Epivir). Interferon is a medicine that boosts immune system function. It can help to reduce liver problems and is given by injection every six months. Lamivudine is a pill (also comes as a liquid) that helps to stop the hepatitis B virus from replicating (growing and dividing).

The best way to protect against Hepatitis B is to get vaccinated. Most children are now vaccinated, starting at birth, with a 3-doses series. People who were not vaccinated at birth should consider vaccination if they:

  • work with blood or blood products regularly,
  • are in prison,
  • use injection drugs,
  • have someone living with them who is Hepatitis B positive,
  • work in health care, or
  • travel to areas where hepatitis B is common.

Resources

  1. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs204/en/

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