What is it?
Hepatitis B is one type of infection of the liver of which there are several different types-A,B,C,D, and a couple more. The common aspect is that they are all infections of the liver. This will discuss Hepatitis B (HBV). 90f infected individuals will recover without further problems. A portion (5-10of people infected with HBV will go on to a chronic state, and about 1f infected individuals die at initial infection. 90f infants and 50f children will become chronic. Long term effects can include liver failure (cirrhosis) and/or liver cancer. Over 12 million Americans, 1 in 20, are infected. There are an estimated 100,000 infected and 5,000 deaths attributed to HBV annually.
The symptoms of an infection may include yellow color of the skin and eyes (jaundice), abdominal discomfort, dark urine, headache and fatigue. HBV occasionally has little or no symptoms, yet for approximately 1/3 of the infected people it is quite severe.
How is it spread?
HBV is spread by contact with bodily fluids or blood from an infected person. It is not transmitted by “casual” contact. There are an estimated 78,000 people infected annually in the US, most of these in the 20-49 year old group. Contact can be from sexual partners of chronically infected persons, IV drug users, infants born to HBV infected mothers (though not seemingly due to breast feeding), persons that have contact with bodily fluids/blood at work or play, sharing razors or tooth brushes, body piercing or tattooing.
All blood for transfusions is tested for HBV as well as other infectious diseases and is considered to be safe. If you get body piercings or tattoos, be sure to ask if they use fully sterilized or preferably new equipment for each person. If you have more than one sexual partner, ask questions of them and use condoms. It is not clear that HBV is prevented by use of condoms, but it should provide a better margin of safety. If you are an IV drug user, quit. If you can’t quit, never, under any circumstances, use any part of another persons’ injection equipment, including a glass of water. Children born to HBV mothers should get 2 specific immunizations within hours of birth. Never share any personal care item that may come in contact with blood (such as tooth brushes).
Is there an immunization for it?
Immunization for HBV has been around for about 20 years. This will require 3 separate immunizations. They are spaced at initial shot, 2 months later and 6 months later. There is some variability of this, but this is the recommended timing. The effectiveness is very good. There is no danger of catching HBV from the vaccination.
Who should get the immunization? Newborn infants before leaving the hospital, anyone under 19 years of age, employees whose position may include exposure to bodily fluids or blood, persons who have multiple sexual partners, and IV drug users should receive this vaccine. If you travel and spend 6 months or longer in areas where sanitation is less than optimal you should check with your Physician as part of getting ready to go.
What is the treatment for HBV?
HBV may be self-limiting for about 90ith no ongoing problems or infection. There are 5 to 10f infected persons who become chronic. Those chronically infected may well need medications and should certainly maintain contact with a Hepatologist- a liver specialist. Other assaults to your liver should be eliminated. This includes alcohol consumption as well as numerous other liver damaging chemicals, some of which are medications that are prescribed for other health issues. The available medications for treating HBV are limited. Their effectiveness is only fair, but does depend on the exact virus one has. These medications are expensive and have a fairly high degree of side effects.