Did you know that approximately 600,000 people die every year from hepatitis B (Hep B) related consequences? Or that more than 240 million people suffer from chronic liver infections? Hep B is a potentially fatal disease that is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV) and can affect the liver in numerous ways. The virus has the ability to cause chronic liver infection and/or disease, putting those infected as at a much higher risk of fatality due to cancer and/or cirrhosis (a chronic liver disease).
Why is the liver so important to us? The liver acts as the “factory” of the body performing countless jobs that are crucial to maintaining everyday life. The liver performs jobs such as processing, then removing toxins, drugs, and alcohol; storing glycogen which we use for our short-term energy needs, making bile which helps us digest the fats that we consume on a daily basis, and produces substances that help clot our blood. We all know that we only have one liver, but he/she is a true champ! The liver will continue to fight and repair itself day in and day out until it is too badly damaged to longer fight, at which point it slowly stops working all together.
How Do You Get Hep B?
Hep B is most commonly spread through infected blood and other bodily fluids (i.e. semen, open sores, and vaginal secretions). An infected Hep B woman who is pregnant can also infect her baby with the virus at the time of birth. Hep B can even be spread through the sharing of toothbrushes and razors of those who are infected, how crazy is that?! Of those who are infected, Hep B can either be acute or chronic (life-long). Acute infections can however become chronic over time.
During the initial or acute stage after being firstly infected with Hep B, some people may have and/or show little symptoms while others may be seriously ill for several weeks. Possible symptoms of Hep B include: jaundice (when the skin become a yellow color or the whites of the eyes turn a orange/brownish color), fever, abdominal pain, unusual urine and/or bowel color, nausea and vomiting, as well as being fatigue without reason. These symptoms will usually occur within one to six months after becoming infected with HBV.
Hep B testing is done through a variety of one or more blood tests by your physician or local sexually transmitted infection/disease center. Today there are seven different types of blood tests available to diagnose Hep B. Anyone who is at high-risk or thinks they have been infected with Hep B should be tested.
Is There A Treatment?
Unfortunately today there is no cure for Hep B, the main focus of those infected is put on a healthy diet and comfort. For those suffering from chronic Hep B there are medications used to help prolong life but often these medications are not readily available. However chemotherapy, liver transfusions, and surgeries are used in higher income countries in order to help prolong the life of those infected.
Healthy adults who are infected with HBV will fight the infection, recover, and completely get rid of the virus more 90% of the time.
Since 1982, there has been a vaccination available that has been proven to be 95% effective in preventing the Hep B infection. Practicing safe sex (using protection and limiting the number of partners), using protection against transmission, and not sharing needles or equipment with others are also ways to help prevent becoming infected with Hep B. If you have came in contact with a Hep B positive individual through unprotected sex or sharing of other bodily fluids, it is possible to prevent your body from becoming infected by receiving the Hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG) vaccine within 24 hours of contact with that infected individual. After 24 hours the vaccine is no longer proven efficient.
How to Protect Others
If you or someone you know is infected with Hep B, precautions should be taken to protect others from becoming infected. To protect others from Hep B do not donate blood or organs as the infected blood and organs are still able to spread the virus, tell your sex partners that you are infected, use protection during sexual intercourse, do not share your toothbrush or razors with others, do not share any syringes or needles with others, and if pregnant tell your doctor you are infected so that precautions can be made for your child after birth.