Hepatitis B is a disease that it characterized by the swelling and inflammation of the liver (hepatitis) and is caused by the hepatitis B virus or “HBV”. After becoming infected with the hepatitis B virus, an individual will typically have no symptoms and many individuals who become infected are not aware that they have this disease; however, they are still capable of spreading this disease to others as this virus is contagious and has the potential to infect anyone who comes in contact with their bodily fluids.
Adults who are otherwise healthy and become infected with this virus may experience mild to severe symptoms approximately two to three months after having become infected, however, hepatitis B will typically go away on its own within two to three weeks after the acute illness.
Causes and Risk Factors for Hepatitis B
A person can contract the hepatitis B virus when the bodily fluids of another individual who has been infected enter their system. High risk factors for contracting the hepatitis virus include unsafe sexual practices where the semen, vaginal fluids, blood, or saliva enter your body and when using illicit drugs and sharing the needles or syringes with others.
Health care workers are also at risk for becoming infected with this virus as they come in frequent contact with human blood while giving injections and can be stuck accidentally with a contaminated needle. Pregnant women who are carrying the hepatitis B virus can also infect their baby at birth.
Chronic and Acute Hepatitis B
The majority of adults who have a healthy immune system and become infected with HBV have the acute form of infection and will typically overcome their illness within a few months with no permanent damage being done to the liver. When the hepatitis B virus is present in the body for six months or more, this is typically the chronic form of HBV and when the immune system becomes unable to fight the infection any longer this condition can become a life long illness that can lead to serious complications. Children who are born with this virus or who become infected between the ages of one and five years of age are most likely to become chronically infected.
Symptoms of Hepatitis B
The chronic form hepatitis B has been known to be undetected in some individuals for decades until it has caused serious complications affecting the liver. The symptoms that may occur in with HBV include fatigue, weakness, nausea, vomiting, dark urine, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, and jaundice which is the yellowing of the skin or eyes.
When an individual is infected with a chronic case of HBV, many serious complications to the liver can occur that include cirrhosis which is the scarring of the liver, liver cancer, and liver failure.
Treatment for the acute form of HBV is typically only to reduce the symptoms an individual is experiencing as the virus will typically disappear on its own, however, in the chronic cases of the hepatitis B virus antiviral medications may be prescribed to slow the infection and damage that may be occurring to the liver.
In serious cases where HBV has caused significant damage to the liver causing failure, a liver transplant may be recommended. If you have become infected with the hepatitis B virus, it is essential that you take the precautions in order to prevent others from acquiring this illness.
Always inform your partner or anyone that you may have sexual relations with that you have this virus and do not share syringes, needles, toothbrushes, or razors with others. Do not participate in any blood or organ donor programs and if you are pregnant and know you are carrying the hepatitis B virus, it is essential that you inform your physician or obstetrician so they will be prepared to treat your baby once they are born.