Hepatitis B is a potentially life-threatening liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus. It is a major global health problem. It can cause chronic infection and puts people at high risk of death from cirrhosis and liver cancer. In this article we will discuss: Hepatitis B Treatment and Prevention Techniques
Hepatitis B prevalence is highest in sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia, where between 5–10% of the adult population is chronically infected.
Hepatitis B Key facts
- Hepatitis B is a viral infection that attacks the liver and can cause both acute and chronic disease.
- The virus is transmitted through contact with the blood or other body fluids of an infected person.
- An estimated 240 million people are chronically infected with hepatitis B (defined as hepatitis B surface antigen positive for at least 6 months).
- More than 686 000 people die every year due to complications of hepatitis B, including cirrhosis and liver cancer .
- Hepatitis B is an important occupational hazard for health workers.
- However, it can be prevented by currently available safe and effective vaccine
Mode of Transmission
The hepatitis B virus can survive outside the body for at least 7 days. During this time, the virus can still cause infection if it enters the body of a person who is not protected by the vaccine. The incubation period of the hepatitis B virus is 75 days on average, but can vary from 30 to 180 days. The virus may be detected within 30 to 60 days after infection and can persist and develop into chronic hepatitis B.
In highly endemic areas, hepatitis B is most commonly spread from mother to child at birth (perinatal transmission), or through horizontal transmission (exposure to infected blood), especially from an infected child to an uninfected child during the first 5 years of life. The development of chronic infection is very common in infants infected from their mothers or before the age of 5 years.
Hepatitis B is also spread by percutaneous or mucosal exposure to infected blood and various body fluids, as well as through saliva, menstrual, vaginal, and seminal fluids.
Sexual transmission of hepatitis B may occur, particularly in unvaccinated men who have sex with men and heterosexual persons with multiple sex partners or contact with sex workers. Infection in adulthood leads to chronic hepatitis in less than 5% of cases.
Transmission of the virus may also occur through the reuse of needles and syringes either in health-care settings or among persons who inject drugs. In addition, infection can occur during medical, surgical and dental procedures, through tattooing, or through the use of razors and similar objects that are contaminated with infected blood.
Symptoms of Hepatitis B
Some people have acute illness with symptoms that last several weeks, including yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), dark urine, extreme fatigue, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. A small subset of persons with acute hepatitis can develop acute liver failure which can lead to death.
In some people, the hepatitis B virus can also cause a chronic liver infection that can later develop into cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer.
Hepatitis B Diagnoses
Laboratory diagnosis of hepatitis B infection focuses on the detection of the hepatitis B surface antigen HBsAg. WHO recommends that all blood donations be tested for hepatitis B to ensure blood safety and avoid accidental transmission to people who receive blood products.
- Acute HBV infection is characterized by the presence of HBsAg and immunoglobulin M (IgM) antibody to the core antigen, HBcAg. During the initial phase of infection, patients are also seropositive for hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg). HBeAg is usually a marker of high levels of replication of the virus. The presence of HBeAg indicates that the blood and body fluids of the infected individual are highly contagious.
- Chronic infection is characterized by the persistence of HBsAg for at least 6 months (with or without concurrent HBeAg). Persistence of HBsAg is the principal marker of risk for developing chronic liver disease and liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma) later in life.
Hepatitis B Treatment
There is no specific treatment for acute hepatitis B. Therefore, care is aimed at maintaining comfort and adequate nutritional balance, including replacement of fluids lost from vomiting and diarrhoea.
Chronic hepatitis B infection can be treated with drugs, including oral antiviral agents. Treatment can slow the progression of cirrhosis, reduce incidence of liver cancer and improve long term survival.
WHO recommends the use of oral treatments – tenofovir or entecavir, because these are the most potent drugs to suppress hepatitis B virus. They rarely lead to drug resistance as compared with other drugs, are simple to take (1 pill a day), and have few side effects so require only limited monitoring.
In most people, however, the treatment does not cure hepatitis B infection, but only suppresses the replication of the virus. Therefore, most people who start hepatitis B treatment must continue it for life.
However, the hepatitis B vaccine is the mainstay of hepatitis B prevention
This Article is reproduced courtesy of WHO
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