What is Hepatitis? | Key Factors About Hepatitis
Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. When the liver is inflamed or damaged, its function can be affected. Heavy alcohol use, toxins, some medications, and certain medical conditions can all cause hepatitis. However, hepatitis is often caused by a virus. In the United States, the most common hepatitis viruses are hepatitis A virus, hepatitis B virus, and hepatitis C virus.
- Hepatitis B is a viral infection that attacks the liver and can cause both acute and chronic disease.
- The virus is most commonly transmitted from mother to child during birth and delivery, as well as through contact with blood or other body fluids during sex with an infected partner, unsafe injections or exposures to sharp instruments.
- WHO estimates that 296 million people were living with chronic hepatitis B infection in 2019, with 1.5 million new infections each year.
- In 2019, hepatitis B resulted in an estimated 820 000 deaths, mostly from cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma (primary liver cancer).
- Hepatitis B can be prevented by vaccines that are safe, available and effective.
What is hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus. Some people with hepatitis B are sick for only a few weeks (known as “acute” infection), but for others, the disease progresses to a serious, lifelong illness known as chronic hepatitis B.
Acute hepatitis B is a short-term illness that occurs within the first 6 months after someone is exposed to the hepatitis B virus. Some people with acute hepatitis B have no symptoms at all or only mild illness. For others, acute hepatitis B causes a more severe illness that requires hospitalization.
Most people do not experience any symptoms when newly infected. However, 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. People with acute hepatitis can develop acute liver failure, which can lead to death. Among the long-term complications of HBV infections, a subset of persons develops advanced liver diseases such as cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma, which cause high morbidity and mortality.
If you do have symptoms, they may include:
Sometimes. Most children younger than 5 and people with serious health problems (like having compromised immune systems) have no symptoms. Up to half of all older children, adolescents, and adults experience symptoms of acute hepatitis B.
Symptoms of acute hepatitis B can include:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Dark urine
- Clay-colored bowel movements
- Joint pain
- Jaundice (yellow color in the skin or the eyes)
Symptoms may not show up until 1 to 6 months after you catch the virus. You might not feel anything. About a third of the people who have this disease don’t. They find out only through a blood test.
Hepatitis B and Your Liver
The liver is such an important organ that we can survive only one or two days if it completely shuts down – if the liver fails, your body will fail, too. Fortunately, the liver can function even when up to 80% of it is diseased or removed. This is because it has the amazing ability to regenerate – or create – itself from healthy liver cells that still exist.
If your body were an automobile, your liver would be considered the engine. It does hundreds of vital things to make sure everything runs smoothly:
How Common Is Hepatitis B?
The number of people who get this disease is down, the CDC says. Rates have dropped from an average of 200,000 per year in the 1980s to around 20,000 in 2016. People between the ages of 20 and 49 are most likely to get it.
About 90% of infants and 25-50% of children between the ages of 1-5 will become chronically infected. In adults, approximately 95% will recover completely and will not go on to have a chronic infection.
What is chronic (long-term) hepatitis B?
Some people, especially those who get infected in adulthood, are able to clear the virus from their bodies without treatment. For other people, acute hepatitis B leads to life-long infection known as chronic hepatitis B. Over time, chronic hepatitis B can cause serious health problems, including liver damage, cirrhosis, liver cancer, and even death.
How do I know if I have hepatitis B?
Talk to your health-care provider if you have risk factors for or think you might have hepatitis B. Since many people with hepatitis B do not have symptoms, blood tests are used to diagnose the infection. Several different hepatitis B tests are available. Depending on the test, they can determine whether you
- have chronic or acute hepatitis B;
- are immune to hepatitis B after vaccination; or
- were infected in the past, have cleared the virus from your body, and are protected from future infection.
Certain tests can even determine how likely it is that someone who is infected with hepatitis B will transmit it to others. Ask your health-care provider to explain what tests were ordered, when you can expect to get the results, and what those results mean.
- Hepatitis B surface antigen and antibody(HBsAg). Antigens are proteins on the hepatitis B virus. Antibodies are proteins made by your immune cells. They show up in your blood between 1 and 10 weeks after exposure. If you recover, they go away after 4 to 6 months. If they’re still there after 6 months, your condition is chronic.
- There is no medication available to treat acute hepatitis B. For people with mild symptoms, health-care providers usually recommend rest, adequate nutrition, and fluids. Those with more severe symptoms may need to be hospitalized.
- People with chronic hepatitis B should be under the care of a health-care provider that is knowledgeable about this illness (like an internist or provider that specializes in treating people with infectious, digestive, or liver diseases) and is able to regularly monitor their liver function. People recently diagnosed with hepatitis B should
- Yes. When a pregnant woman comes in for prenatal care, she is given a series of routine blood tests, including one that checks for hepatitis B virus infection.
- Yes. Almost all cases of hepatitis B can be prevented in babies born to infected mothers, but these newborns must receive the necessary shots at the recommended times. The combination of hepatitis B immune globulin (known as HBIG) and hepatitis B vaccine can be given to infants born to infected mothers within 12 hours of birth to protect them from infection. To best protect your baby, follow the advice from your baby’s doctor.
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