Hepatitis B is one of the most common causes of chronic viral infection. It is estimated that over 400 million individuals are affected by this condition worldwide. In fact, up to 15-20% of patients with this virus will unfortunately die from this condition. It is therefore an extremely important illness, that needs to be effectively treated and prevented.
Hepatitis B virus is often transmitted from an infected mother to a newborn child, during birth. This form of infection called vertical transmission is the most common mode of infection of this virus for most affected individuals. It can also be transmitted through blood and sexual contact. However, hepatitis B is not transmitted by casual physical contact, or from food source. Thus, shaking hands with stranger or food does not pose risk for contracting this illness. Fortunately, this virus can be entirely prevented by timely vaccination.
Hepatitis B is defined as chronic when the infection lasts longer than 6 months in duration. Many patients with chronic hepatitis B infection may not be aware of their illness, because there may be very few symptoms associated with the disease. However, as the disease advances, many begin to complain of persistent and chronic fatigue. Some may complain of anorexia, nausea, and weight loss. As the disease advances further, there may be symptoms such as yellowing of the skin, vomiting of blood, fluid in the abdomen, and altered level of consciousness and confusion. In fact, the most worrisome complication of chronic hepatitis B is the development of cirrhosis or the hardening of liver, and liver cancer, known as hepatoma.
The diagnosis of hepatitis B is made based on blood tests. Most commonly performed tests include hepatitis B surface antigen and antibody, and liver function test. For confirmed cases of hepatitis B, we may recommend further testing including viral DNA level, alpha-feto-protein, a marker for liver cancer, and sonogram of the liver.
There are currently two main types of treatment options available for patients with chronic hepatitis B. They include anti-viral drugs and sometimes interferon. The anti-viral drugs work by suppressing viral DNA replication. These anti-viral drugs may be very effective in preventing cirrhosis and liver cancer, although chronic, life-long therapy is often required.
Chronic hepatitis B is an extremely serious condition. For individuals with this illness, it is very important that they undergo a regular check-up including periodic liver function test, AFP determination, and sonogram. It is also advisable to avoid alcohol, and any unnecessary medication. For individuals with active viral replication, the treatment with anti-viral drugs is recommended to prevent potential complications including cirrhosis and hepatoma.