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Complete Guide to Hepatitis B

What is Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a viral disease that infects the liver and causes inflammation. Aside from inflammation, it also causes a patient to suffer from jaundice, vomiting, and even death. Early symptoms of the virus mimic feelings of general ill-health including body aches, nausea, and and a low grade fever. Generally, the virus lasts a few weeks and then gradually improves. Additionally in rare cases, the virus will not manifest any symptoms and the condition will go unrecognized. Chronic hepatitis B can lead to liver cancer and cirrhosis. A vaccination was developed and tested in the early 1980s with the expected immunity to last at least 25 years. Hepatitis B is known as a hepadnavirus as it is a DNA virus. It replicated in the liver and can be passed along to the bloodstream. The virus can be diagnosed through a blood tests for the virus's proteins and antibodies. As well, it is important to know that the virus is transmitted through blood and other body fluids.

Hepatitis B was formerly known as “serum hepatitis.” It has created epidemics in regions of Africa and Asia and is considered to be an endemic in China. Around the globe, more than 2 billion people have been infected by hepatitis B. This is over one third of the world's population. The earliest hepatitis B epidemic was documented in 1885 in Bremen, Germany where 191 employees of a shipyard became ill and developed jaundice. The epidemic sprang from a vaccination for small pox using other people's lymph. In 1909, outbreaks were linked to the introduction of hypodermic needles and their reuse on several patients.

How Can It Be Treated?

Acute hepatitis B does not usually require medical treatment as it usually passes on its own. Antiviral treatments are only recommended for individuals with an especially aggressive form of the virus or for those with a weakened immune system. However, in the case of chronic hepatitis B, treatment must be administered to reduce any instance of liver cancer or cirrhosis. Since hepatitis B is a viral infection, there are no medications that can completely rid a person of the infection. There are 7 licensed medications in the United States used to keep the virus from replicating including Epivir amd Hepsira. For infants born to mothers infected with the virus, the risk of acquiring it can be reduced by 90% if administered hepatitis B antibodies within 12 hours of birth.

Patient Education

Hepatitis B is a viral infection that must be watched closely. Acute forms of the virus generally leave no lasting medical complications. However, chronic forms can lead to more serious conditions and even death. It is imperative to recognize the symptoms and seek medical help if a patient believes he has acquired or is at risk for acquiring hepatitis B. Acute hepatitis B usually gets better after a few months, however the chronic form lasts a lifetime. Below are a list of resources for patients suffering from the infection.

Resources

  • Hepatitis B Basics: the need-to-know facts about the virus.
  • Hepatitis B and Children: a fact sheet for parents on the HBV and its vaccine.
  • The Facts: information on transmission and general information for college students.
  • Hepatitis B: information on health concerns and at-risk groups and individuals.
  • Chronic HBV in Minorities: a look at the way the virus afflicts Asian American, native Hawaiian, and other Pacific Islanders.
  • FDA Safety Alert: a report on the transmission of HBV in hospitals through spring loaded lancet devices.
  • Vaccination: a study on the hepatitis A and B vaccination initiative. 

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