Hepatitis B, or HBV, is an inflammation of the liver that is caused by a variety of factors such as trauma and alcohol abuse. While Hepatitis B is not usually life-threatening, over a period of time it can cause cirrhosis (destruction of the liver) or liver cancer.

HBV can be spread from an infected individual by blood or bodily fluids. Since the virus is not very contagious, you cannot acquire HBV through casual contact, but more frequently through sharing intimate household items, drug needles, and engaging in any type of sexual contact, especially high-risk sexual intercourse such as anal sex. In addition, a woman can pass the virus to her newborn during the birthing process and medical professionals dealing with infected persons are also at risk of contracting the virus when not taking proper precautions.

Hepatitis B has two stages: acute and chronic. Acute HBV is short-term while chronic HBV is long-term and ongoing.

History of Hepatitis B

Hepatitis has always been known as an inflammation of the liver, but it was not until the 1940’s that the virus was discovered as being the culprit of the inflammation. However, the Hepatitis B strain was not determined until the 1970’s.

Over 1,800 centuries ago, China used a blend of herbs to treat Hepatitis B. The concoction is still used in Asian countries such as Japan, China and Vietnam today. The herb blend included licorice, cinnamon, and rhubarb. There are many Asian doctors, who have been Western trained, that still use and stand by this herb mixture as a viable treatment for HBV.

Symptoms of Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a silent disease with few symptoms in its early stages. One third of people do not develop any signs of the virus. Symptoms are usually few and far between. When symptoms do occur they materialize in a variety of ways.

Early on the symptoms include: headaches, muscle aches, fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

In later stages the symptoms can include the following: very dark brownish-colored urine, clay-colored stools, abdominal pain, and jaundice (yellowing of skin and the whites of the eyes). One third of people only acquire flu-like symptoms without any jaundice, therefore causing many cases of mistaken diagnosis.

Hepatitis B can become severe and symptoms include: an extended blood clotting time, personality changes and restless, disturbing behavior.

Diagnosing Hepatitis B

HBV can be diagnosed with several types of blood tests. Some blood tests can even detect the virus before any symptoms are present. This is crucial as many people do not develop any symptoms at all.

The tests work by measuring liver function to identify the HBV antigens or antibodies in the blood.

Treatment for Hepatitis B

Since Hepatitis B has no real treatment course, doctors usually recommend that infected persons stay hydrated, get plenty of rest, follow a healthy diet, and abstain from alcoholic beverages.

The individuals that are chronic carriers of HBV are treated with a synthetic form of the protein interferon alpha. This can help reduce symptoms associated with the virus as well as improve liver function. Unfortunately, the side effects associated with this drug can include fever, headache, and flu-like symptoms.

People that have mild to severe acute Hepatitis B start to feel better within a few weeks and are completely recovered within 2 months.

What Happens if Hepatitis B Goes Untreated?

HBV is associated with liver dysfunction. Your liver is a very important organ and you need it to survive as its main function is to filter out any toxins that enter the bloodstream. The liver also helps to absorb nutrients from different foodstuff and controls bleeding.

If Hepatitis B is chronic and cannot be stopped, the liver can develop cirrhosis which leads to liver failure. The only way to correct this is to have a liver transplant.

In addition, chronic Hepatitis B can lead to a type of liver cancer known as hepatocellular carcinoma. 15 to 20 percent of those that develop liver disease from chronic HBV will die of liver disease.

Preventing Hepatitis B

  • Hepatitis B can be prevented in the following ways:
  • Avoiding the blood and bodily fluids from infected people (this includes oral, vaginal, and anal intercourse)
  • Avoiding sharing items such as toothbrushes and razor blades from infected people
  • Using latex condoms during intercourse can greatly reduce the risk of vaginal or semen secretions transferring from the infected individual
  • Receiving a Hepatitis B vaccination
  • Getting vaccinations for newborns at risk
  • Receiving temporary protection from injections of Hepatitis B immune globulin
  • Avoiding sharing drug needles

Who Is at Risk for Contracting Hepatitis B?

The following includes those people that are at a higher risk of contracting Hepatitis B:

  • People with new sexual partners
  • Individuals with 2 or more sexual partners
  • Individuals not practicing safe, protected sex
  • People engaging in intercourse while under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Intravenous (IV) drug users
  • Homosexual men
  • People who receive hemodialysis or blood products
  • People with excessive exposure to alcohol
  • Medical professional treating infected persons who do not use proper precaution

Statistics about Hepatitis B

The following are some important statistics about Hepatitis B:

  • 200,000 to 300,000 new cases of Hepatitis B are reported annually
  • There are 1.5 million HBV carriers in the United States
  • 90 to 94 percent of people completely recover with no long-term effects
  • 6 to 10 percent of people will become chronic carriers of HBV, making them at risk for cirrhosis or liver cancer
  • 15 to 20 percent of people can develop arthritis-type problems
  • 90 percent of babies who contract HBV at birth become chronic carriers
  • 50 percent of children under the age of 5, who are infected, become chronic carriers
  • In the United States people aged 20 – 50 are the ones most likely to be affected with HBV
  • HBV causes 5000 death annually

Click here for more information on Hepatitis B

This Vaccine Information Statement courtesy of:
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Immunization Program

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