Hepatitis B infection is caused by the hepatitis B virus, which can be prevented by taking the hepatitis B vaccine. Should you or your children be getting this vaccine? Read on to find out more.
Introduction to Hepatitis B and Hepatitis B Vaccine
Hepatitis is the medical term referring to an infection or an inflammation of the liver. In the general population, it is usually caused by several virus, including hepatitis virus A, B, C, D, and E. Hepatitis B (also sometimes referred to as Hep B), as its name suggests, is a contagious disease caused by the hepatitis B virus. This virus is spread by contact of fluids and waste of infected people. It has been estimated that there are 350 million chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) carriers worldwide. The prevalence of chronic HBV infection varies geographically from high (>8%), intermediate (2-7%) to low (<2%) prevalence. In Asia, the number is around 6.2%. The first hepatitis B vaccine approved in the US in 1981 was derived from blood-plasma. The genetically engineered version was subsequently approved in 1986.
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What are the symptoms of hepatitis B?
The liver is one of the most important organs in our body responsible for multiple key functions:
- Production of blood clotting factors
- Production of bile
- Blood cell recycling
- Provide immunity
- Protein metabolism
- Lipid metabolism
- Sugar metabolism
People who are infected with the hepatitis B virus usually manifest with symptoms which include:
- Yellowing of skin/eye white (jaundice)
- Generalised itchiness
- Dark urine
- Light-coloured stool
- Abdominal pain/discomfort
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite or refusal to eat/drink in toddlers
Treatment of hepatitis B including symptom control and antiviral therapy. You should go to your local clinic immediately if you have any of the above symptoms, as it suggests there might be problems relating to your liver. Though there is no definitive cure for hepatitis B infection, the virus can be suppressed permanently so that it would not bring any damage to the liver. Resting, hydration and avoidance of alcohol could be suggested to minimise the risk of developing acute liver failure.
When should I get the hepatitis B vaccine?
In most countries worldwide, hepatitis B vaccination is included as a part of childhood immunisation scheme. All children should receive three doses at appropriate intervals. Infants should get their first dose at birth and will usually complete the series by 6 months of age. However, it may sometimes take longer than 6 months to complete the immunisation series.
Usually, the vaccination works in 98% cases and can provide immunity for a minimum duration of 20 years. In adulthood, people can choose to test for immunity with a simple blood test, which test for the levels of hepatitis B antibodies. Another booster dose could be given if there is no antibody detected.
What are the different types of hepatitis B vaccine?
There are more than a dozen different brands of hepatitis B vaccines available across Asia. However, all of them are genetically engineered from the surface antigen protein of hepatitis B virus. Once the vaccine is injected intramuscularly (i.e., injected via the muscles), our immune system recognises it as a foreign object, and attacks it, producing antibodies against these surface antigen proteins of the hepatitis B virus. In the meantime, these surface antigen proteins of the hepatitis B virus are actually unable to cause an actual hepatitis B infection. Our immune system forms immune memory cells after this initial ‘attack’ and can then launch a much stronger and efficient attack once we get into contact with an actual hepatitis B virus.
Some pharmaceutical companies might offer hepatitis B vaccines in combination with other vaccines. Do consult your doctors or healthcare professionals to see which one suits you or your children best.
What are the side effects of Hep B vaccination?
The hepatitis B vaccine has been generally considered safe. Minor side effects can happen but usually they are not big causes of concern:
- Injection site reaction: swelling, tenderness, redness, warmth, or hard lump
- Low fever
- General ill feeling
- Loss of appetite
For children, it is important for their parents to keep an eye on them after any type of vaccine injection. Always go to your doctor if you are unsure or worried about their symptoms.
Hepatitis B viral infection is an infection that can affect your liver, an organ which plays multiple important roles and functions in your body. Taking the hepatitis B vaccine will allow you and your children to better protect yourselves against this viral infection. Consult your doctors or healthcare professionals to find out more about hepatitis B infection and vaccination, and you may be surprised to find out that you may need a booster shot!