What is Hepatitis B infection?

Hepatitis B refers to a specific viral infection which can cause inflammation of the liver. It is very common, with approximately 350 million people infected worldwide particularly in South-East Asia and Africa.

How did I acquire Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B can be transmitted by blood or bodily fluids (saliva, semen and vaginal secretion) from another person infected with the virus. Worldwide (mostly in Africa and Asia) many people are born with the virus (inherited from their mother) and may be unaware they carry the virus. It is not spread through casual or social contact such as sneezing, coughing, hugging or eating food prepared by a person with hepatitis B.

Acute versus Chronic Hepatitis B infection?

Acute Hepatitis B occurs when a person is initially infected with the virus and may have no symptoms or become jaundiced. A person is said to have Chronic Hepatitis B if they do not clear the virus. The majority of adults (95%) who acquire acute hepatitis B will clear the virus. However, only a minority of infants (10%) with acute hepatitis B will clear the virus. In general, those who clear the virus will have lifelong immunity.

How does Hepatitis B affect my liver?

The hepatitis B virus resides in the liver. The immune system attempts to eradicate the virus although in the process the liver may get inflamed and damaged. Prolonged inflammation can eventually lead to liver scarring. Cirrhosis is a term used to describe severe scarring of the liver.

What are the symptoms of Hepatitis B infection?

Most people with hepatitis B infection do not have symptoms for many years. However, this does not mean that the infection is under control. Everyone with chronic hepatitis B is at risk of liver inflammation, scarring/cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer.

Is there a vaccine for Hepatitis B?

Vaccination against Hepatitis B is available and very effective. However, vaccination is not effective in people who already have Chronic Hepatitis B infection.

Is there treatment for Hepatitis B and what is the follow up?

Treatment for Hepatitis B is available and can be complicated. Several types of medications (tablets or injections) are available. There is no cure against the virus in Chronic Hepatitis B infection, but rather the aim is to prevent liver disease and long term complications. This requires regular contact with a gastroenterologist and screening for complications such as liver cancer.

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