Hepatitis B

What is Hepatitis B?

  • Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver that is caused by Hepatitis B virus.
  • In India, 2-4 persons out of every hundred individuals suffer from this disease
  • Hepatitis B is an important occupational hazard for health workers.

How is Hepatitis B spread?

  • Hepatitis B is spread when blood or other body fluids infected with the Hepatitis B virus enters the body of a person who is not infected.
  • This can happen through multiple ways:
    1. Hepatitis B can pass from an infected mother to her child during birth
    2. Hepatitis B can spread by sharing needles, syringes, razors etc
    3. Hepatitis B can spread through unprotected sex with an infected person
    4. Hepatitis B can also spread among close contacts of infected persons

Can a person spread Hepatitis B and not know it?
Yes. Many people with Hepatitis B infection do not know they are infected since they do not feel or look sick. However, they still can spread the virus to others and are themselves at risk of serious health problems themselves.

What are ways Hepatitis B is not spread?

  • Hepatitis B is not spread through sharing meals, bowls or utensils with someone who has the virus.
  • It is also not spread by breastfeeding, hugging, kissing, holding hands, coughing, or sneezing.

What are the symptoms of Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B does not always cause symptoms. Many people can live with Hepatitis B for decades without feeling sick. If and when symptoms do occur, they can include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine
  • Clay-colored bowel movements
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice (yellow color in the skin or the eyes)

How serious is Hepatitis B?

  • In some patients of Hepatitis B, the disease does not resolve and continues to be present for more than six months. Such patients are said to have ‘Chronic Hepatitis B’.
  • Chronic Hepatitis B is a lifelong illness, it can become very serious with long-term health problems.
  • Nearly 3-4 of every 10 persons who suffers from chronic hepatitis B, develop serious liver conditions including liver damage, liver failure, or even liver cancer.
  • Chronic Hepatitis B is the leading cause of liver cancer

How do people know if they have Hepatitis B?

  • Hepatitis B can be detected through blood tests.
  • A Hepatitis B test is the only way for people to know if they are infected. Most people who have Hepatitis B don’t feel sick, so they don’t know they are infected.
  • In fact, nearly 2 out of 3 people with Hepatitis B do not know they have it.
  • When in doubt it is a good idea to get tested for hepatitis B, so that if you find that you are infected, you can be linked to care a support early, before the virus causes extensive liver damage.

Who should get tested for Hepatitis B?

  • All pregnant mothers should get tested
  • Any close relative/ contacts of persons infected with Hepatitis B
  • Any person who has had a blood transfusion or requires repeated transfusions
  • Any person who injects drugs
  • Persons who have unprotected sex with infected individuals
  • Health care workers and those who handle bio-medical waste

Why should people get tested for Hepatitis B if they don’t feel sick?

  • Even though most people with Hepatitis B don’t feel sick, liver damage can still occur.
  • Getting tested helps people access medical treatments that can save their lives.
  • Lifesaving treatments are available to slow down or prevent liver damage, so getting tested helps people access needed medical treatment.

How does getting tested help protect you and your family members?

  • People who get tested for Hepatitis B and find out that they are infected can help protect their family members by encouraging them to get tested for Hepatitis B.
  • People who have never been infected with Hepatitis B can get a safe, effective vaccine to protect them from getting the infected.
  • The vaccine is currently recommended for all children and people at risk, including family members of people with Hepatitis B.
  • However, adults should get tested first to determine if they have ever had Hepatitis B and if they will benefit from getting the vaccine.

Can I plan pregnancy if I have hepatitis B virus infection?
Yes, but it depends on the severity of your liver disease, always consult your doctor before any decision.

How is Hepatitis B treated?

  • People with Hepatitis B should be monitored regularly by a doctor experienced in caring for people with Hepatitis B.
  • This can include some internists or family medicine practitioners, as well as specialists such as gastroenterologists, or hepatologists (liver specialists). Doctors can monitor for signs of liver disease and prescribe needed treatments.
  • Several medications are available for Hepatitis B treatment.
  • Consultation and regular follow-up would be required for patients of chronic hepatitis B.

What is to be done if you have Hepatitis B?
Visit your nearest Health care Centre and consult a doctor for advise on medication and investigations.

What else can people with Hepatitis B do to take care of their liver

  • People with Hepatitis B should avoid alcohol because it can cause additional liver damage.
  • They also should check with a health professional before taking any prescription pills, supplements, or over-the-counter medications, as these can potentially damage the liver.