Hepatitis B: The Basics of the Virus
What is Hepatitis B?
The Hepatitis B virus (HBV), the 10th leading cause of death worldwide, is one of your body’s greatest enemies. It attacks your liver and causes liver inflammation, hardening, and scarring. This can lead to liver cancer and death.
What are the different kinds of Hepatitis B infections?
A person is classified as having an acute HBV infection if the infection disappears within six months. If the virus persists after that, it is called a chronic infection. “Chronic” means the hepatitis B infection will progress over a long period of time (between weeks to years to a lifetime). This type of infection gives patients a much higher risk of developing HBV-related diseases. A chronically infected person is often unaware about the infection because the symptoms are rare, easily overlooked, and often mistaken for other illnesses. Sadly, he or she will probably only discover the infection when it causes cancer or serious tissue and organ damage.
What is the risk of developing a chronic infection?
As you age, your body and immune system grow stronger, making it less likely to develop a chronic infection. Up to 90% of infants infected in the first year of life will develop chronic hepatitis B, while children between ages 1-4 have a 30-50% chance. After the age of 5, the risk plummets to 2-6%.
What is the liver?
Your body’s largest internal organ, the liver plays several important biological functions: the liver stores and metabolizes the nutrients you need, synthesizes proteins for blood clotting, and detoxifies your bloodstream. All these processes are crucial to your survival. Your liver is located in your upper abdomen behind the ribcage
Do I have Hepatitis B?
Is there a cure for Hepatitis B?
Talk to your doctor or local healthcare provider about getting a Hepatitis B blood test.
There is no known cure for hepatitis B. Acute infections are not treatable, although chronically infected patients can receive liver transplants or expensive antiviral drug regimens involving:
- Adefovir dipivoxil
- interferon alfa-2b
- pegylated interferon alfa-2a
In the end, the best method is still prevention – that is, immunization with a Hepatitis B vaccine.
How widespread is Hepatitis B?
HBV has affected over 2 billion people worldwide at one point in their lives.
- Geographic areas with high HBV prevalence are:
all countries of Africa except Algeria, Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia
- all countries of South Asia except Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Malaysia, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka
- all countries of Western Pacific except Australia, Guam, Japan, and New Zealand
- Jordan and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East
- Eastern Europe and newly independent states of the former Soviet Union
- Alaska natives and indigenous populations of Northern Canada
- South America’s Amazon basin (in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela)
The World Health Organization says between 70% and 90% of the populations in many of these areas have been infected by HBV before age 40. The infection rates are much lower (less than 1% of the total population) in North America, Western and Northern Europe, Australia, and other developed countries.
How is the virus transmitted?
The hepatitis B virus is a blood-borne infection transmitted through several main ways:
- from an infected mother to her baby
- through contaminated needles, such as for drug injections, blood transfusions, or tattoos
- contact with the open wounds or blood of an HBV carrier
- sharing personal care items such as toothbrushes or razors
- unprotected sex
HBV is not transferred through:
You are at risk for HBV infection if you…
- kissing, hugging, or handshaking
- sharing food, water, utensils
- breast feeding
- coughing and sneezing
- casual physical contact
- Are a baby born to HBV-infected mothers
- Are a health care worker who may come in contact with the blood of infected patients
- Inject drugs or have received tattoos
- Had sex with an HBV-infected person or have had more than one sex partner in the last six months
- Were born in, have parents from, or have recently traveled to regions with high HBV prevalence
- Are immune-compromised (such as a patient with HIV)
- Have hemophilia
- Reside or work in a prison or corretional facility for developmentally disabled
What are the symptoms of Hepatitis B?
Over 30% of HBV-infected patients exhibit no symptoms. Those who do generally show flu-like symptoms that are easily mistaken for other diseases. These can range from:
How infectious is Hepatitis B?
- jaundice (yellowing of skin or eyes)
- nausea and vomiting
- abdominal pain
Hepatitis B is a very infectious and resilient virus. HBV is 50-100 times more infectious than HIV. It can survive and even maintain infective capabilities after 7 days outside the body.