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MEDICALLY REVIEWED

Hepatitis B: Diagnosis And Treatment

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Hepatitis B is a liver condition that is widely prevalent in Asian countries. This wide prevalence can be attributed to the virus circulating in this region for thousands of years. Moreover, low infant immunisation rates in Asian countries have also contributed to the high incidence. 

The good news is that hepatitis B vaccination is gaining momentum in most Asian countries. In fact, it is included in routine childhood vaccination in almost all Asian countries. World Hepatitis Day falls on 28 Jul every year. After finding out about hepatitis A, read on more to know more about this liver infection.

What is hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus. For most people, the infection is mild and goes away on its own. But for others, it can cause inflammation of the liver and increases the risk of developing cirrhosis and liver cancer.

This infection can be transmitted via contact of body fluids, such as blood transfusion, sexual contact or sharing of needles. If you contract the infection as an adult, the chances are high that you will recover fast and gain lifelong immunity from the infection. But if you contract the infection at the time of birth, it is unlikely to go on its own. 

What are the symptoms?

Not everyone will get symptoms while infected with the virus. But if you get symptoms, you will notice the following:

  • Yellowing of the skin and white part of the eyes
  • Brown or orange coloured urine
  • Clay-coloured stools
  • Fever and fatigue 
  • Joint pain 
  • Stomach discomfort including pain, nausea and vomiting
  • Lack of appetite

The symptoms usually do not show up until 1 to 6 months after you get infected. Thus, usually infected cases are detected from doing a blood test. 

Who are at risk?

You are at higher risk of contracting hepatitis B if you:

  • Had unprotected sex with a person who has previously contracted the infection 
  • Shared needle with a person who has previously contracted the infection
  • Work in healthcare and handles needles 

If you are a pregnant woman with hepatitis B, there is a possibility of you passing on the infection to your baby during childbirth. 

How to diagnose hepatitis B?

This infection is diagnosed via a blood test. The blood test focuses on detecting hepatitis B surface antigens which are proteins found on the virus. If your blood contains this antigen, it means that you are infected. 

These antigens show up in your blood 1-10 weeks after being infected. 

What are the complications?

As mentioned earlier, most of the people who contract hepatitis B may not have any symptoms. But if left untreated, the following complications may arise:

Liver cirrhosis

Liver cirrhosis is scarring of the liver that results in permanent damage. It can eventually lead to liver failure. 

Liver cancer

Cancer cells may grow in the liver because of untreated infection. The doctor will ask you to undergo an ultrasound scan to rule out chances of liver cancer. 

Besides the liver, chronic hepatitis B can also affect the kidneys and blood vessels.

How to treat hepatitis B?

If you think you are exposed to hepatitis B infection by any chance, you should consult a doctor without any delay. The doctor will give you a vaccine that can boost your immune system. 

There is no specific cure. All treatment is targeted at easing your symptoms. The doctor will prescribe adequate bedrest along with a lot of fluid and a balanced diet. You will be asked to stay away from things that can hurt your liver like alcohol.

The doctor will prescribe periodic blood tests to see whether the infection has cleared. If the infection has not cleared even after six months, the doctor will prescribe any of the below medications:

  • Entecavir: This is an antiviral tablet to be taken once a day.
  • Interferon Alfa: This medicine is used to treat the liver inflammation caused as a result of the infection. This medicine is taken as shots for at least six months.
  • Lamivudine: This is another type of antiviral medication.

 

How to prevent contracting the virus?

Here are some measures you can take to prevent contracting hepatitis B:

  • Get the hepatitis B vaccine without fail. In most Asian countries, the vaccine is part of routine childhood vaccination. 
  • If you are taking care of an infected patient, use gloves without fail.
  • Practice safe sex. 
  • Do not share needle, razor or any sharp objects that can cause a wound. 

Besides, people in the below category should be screened for hepatitis B:

  • Pregnant women
  • HIV patients 
  • People who inject drugs
  • People who live with someone who has contracted the virus 

Bottom Line

Hepatitis B is a viral infection that can affect your liver. Though in most cases this infection go on its own, in very rare cases it can become chronic. If you are in close contact with a hepatitis B patient or suspect that you might have contracted it, you should consult a doctor without fail. The doctor will ask you to undergo a diagnostic test so that necessary treatment can be provided at the earliest.

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