What is hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is a type of virus which can infect the liver resulting in an infection called Hepatitis B. The structure of this virus comprises of a DNA nucleic acid in its core. This virus contains an envelope around it. It is transmitted through body secretions, blood transfusions or sexual contact.
Most individuals who are affected with this virus develop an acute form of the disease and may recover quite quickly. However, some individuals, may have a greater chance of developing a serious chronic infection. This chronic infection is more common in infants and children. There can be many consequences of a hepatitis B chronic infection. It may result in liver failure, cirrhosis of the liver or even liver cancer.
Currently there is no guaranteed cure for this infection. It can effectively be prevented with the help of vaccinations, good dietary support, natural health supplements and appropriate lifestyle changes to suit the individual.
Symptoms of hepatitis B virus
After being exposed to this virus, the body takes 40 to 160 days to develop the symptoms of this disease and symptoms may range from mild to severe. Symptoms experienced may be:
• Abdominal pain
• Dark urine
• Joint pain
• Loss of appetite
• Nausea and vomiting
• Jaundice (yellowness of the sclera and skin)
How is Hepatitis B spread?
This infection is spread via close personal contact from person to person through the body fluids of semen or blood. On entry into the liver cells, this virus begins to multiply, causing our immune response to act. This leads to inflammation of the liver which produces the classic signs and symptoms of this disease.
Hepatitis B virus can be spread by the following means:
• Sexual contact: Having unprotected sex with an individual who has tested positive for the hepatitis B virus. This sexual contact can result in the transmission of the virus. Your infected sexual partner can carry the virus in their saliva, urine, blood, semen or vaginal secretions.
• Sharing needles: Sharing intravenous drug needles can put you at a risk of hepatitis B virus. The practice of sterilizing needles and reusing them has been discontinued in hospitals many decades ago. Not all needles that are used are disposed of immediately.
But drug abusers and addicts still follow the practice of sharing drug needles. These needles and syringes are contaminated with blood which is hepatitis B positive and the disease can be transmitted from an infected person to a healthy person through this method.
• Needle stick injury: This is commonly found in hospital personnel. It can be a serious concern with health care workers who routinely come in contact with hepatitis B positive individuals in their daily hospital routines. Anyone else who comes in contact with human blood is also in at risk for infection.
• Vertical transmission: This term refers the infection which can be transferred from an infected mother to her child especially during the process of child birth.
Acute and chronic hepatitis
Hepatitis B infection can occur in two forms. It can either be acute in nature, that is short lived or it may be chronic which means that it is long lasting.
1. Acute infection: Hepatitis B infection is considered to be acute when the infection is present for duration less than six months. In an acute infection, your immune system is able to clear the infection from your body. Complete recovery is possible within a few months. Most adults get an acute infection.
2. Chronic infection: An infection is considered to be chronic when it is present for duration over six months. It occurs when our immune system cannot fight the infection. It can even become a life-long infection leading to serious conditions such as cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer. Most infected infants and children between 1 to 5 years of age develop a chronic infection.
Diagnosis and treatment of Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B can be easily tested by a simple blood test which checks antigens present in this virus and the antibodies produced by our body. Tests can also be used to measure the viral load in order to check the extent of the disease. A liver biopsy can be used to check the degree and extent of liver damage and the onset of possible cirrhosis .
There are some drugs called lamivudine which can be used to treat Hepatitis. The treatment will include lifestyle modifications and diet changes. In chronic infection the goal is to reduce the risk of complications developing as a result of hepatitis B.