Hepatitis B is a disease caused by a virus, called the hepatitis B virus. Many variants of the hepatitis B virus exist, which appear to be dependent on geographical location. This particular virus is quite resilient, being capable of surviving outside the human body for at least a week yet retaining its ability to infect people.
Hepatitis B continues to be a serious health problem. The World Health Organisation estimates that 257 million people are infected with hepatitis B, with at least 800 thousand deaths as a result of complications from hepatitis B.
Hepatitis B is transmitted through exposure to infected blood and body fluids. Thus, the infection can be acquired through sexual intercourse, making it a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Infected mothers can also transmit the infection to their baby during childbirth.
What happens during a hepatitis B infection?
Hepatitis B infection comes in two phases, acute and chronic. Acute hepatitis B infection can produce symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice). These symptoms can last for a few weeks, and most people who develop symptoms do recover. However, some may develop a more severe disease, which leads to liver failure, which can be fatal.
There are no curative measures for acute infection at the moment, and treatment is based on supportive measures, such as ensuring the patient’s comfort, and maintaining adequate nutrition and hydration levels, because of vomiting and diarrhea.
However, like many STIs, most people do not show any symptoms during the acute infection phase. This means that they are likely to go untreated, which enables the infection to progress to the chronic stage. This also increases the risk of transmitting the infection to others.
Chronic hepatitis B infection also may not produce symptoms. However, in many people it leads to prolonged inflammation in the liver. This chronic underlying inflammation can lead to a condition called cirrhosis, which is the replacement of liver tissue with scar tissue. Cirrhosis can be accompanied by symptoms such as fatigue, jaundice, fluid buildup in the abdomen (ascites), visible veins particularly in the abdominal area (also called Medusa’s head), and highly dilated veins in the esophagus (esophageal varices). Esophageal varices are fragile and rupture easily. This can lead to massive bleeding, which may even be fatal.
Cirrhosis leads to declining liver function, and if left untreated, eventually results in a complete loss of liver function. If complete loss of function occurs, a liver transplant may be required. Undergoing transplantation will require a person to take immune suppressants for life, to avoid rejection of the transplanted liver.
Cirrhosis also greatly increases the incidence of liver cancer. The World Health Organisation estimates that 20 – 30% of people who acquire the infection as adults go on to develop cirrhosis and/or liver cancer. In infants, the risk for chronic infection is even higher, with at least 80% of such cases going on to develop chronic infection. This is because a child’s immune system is generally weaker than that of an adult, which makes it difficult for them to clear an infection.
Can a hepatitis B infection be prevented?
The primary means of preventing a hepatitis B infection is through vaccination. Unlike many STIs, vaccination for hepatitis B is available, and many developed countries have mandated routine hepatitis B vaccination schedules for newborns. Vaccination provides protection in at least 95% of children and young adults, which lasts for at least 20 years.
How can a hepatitis B infection be detected?
Blood tests form the basis for detecting a hepatitis B infection. These tests detect either the proteins which are present on the virus (called viral antigens), or antibodies produced against the viral antigens by the infected person. The virus can be detected within 30 to 60 days after a person is infected. This window is quite large, so it is possible to miss an infection if you screen for it at an early stage. Therefore, repeating the test is necessary if you suspect that you have been exposed, but tested negative.
How can a hepatitis B infection be treated?
No cure exists for a hepatitis B infection, as such, the infection is lifelong. However, the infection can be controlled by oral antiviral medication. The medicine prevents the virus from replicating, slows the development of cirrhosis, and reduces the incidence of liver cancer. The medication must be taken for life in order to maintain constant control over the infection.
Hepatitis B infection carries serious consequences for you, your partner(s), and children. Early detection and treatment are required to safeguard your future and that of your loved ones. Detecting a hepatitis B infection is quick and easy using our STD Rapid Test Kit, which uses the same method of detection as that of hospital laboratories worldwide. The kit requires only 1 – 2 drops of blood from a finger prick and gives you with a reliable and accurate result in 15 minutes. It is safe and easy to use.