Hepatitis B is the most common serious liver infection in the world. It is thought to be the leading cause of liver cancer. The world health organization estimates that hepatitis B infections leads to more than one million deaths every year.
The disease is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV) that attacks the liver. The virus is transmitted through blood and bodily fluids that contain blood. This can occur through direct blood-to-blood contact, unprotected sex and illicit drug use.
It can also be passed from an infected woman to her new born during the delivery process.
The virus can cause a range of problems including fever, fatigue, muscle or joint pain, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting. Chronic carriers have an increased risk of developing liver disease such as cirrhosis or liver cancer because the hepatitis B virus steadily attacks the liver. Chronic carriers will usually have on going inflammation of the liver and may eventually develop cirrhosis and liver cancer. About 1% of people who are infected develop an extreme form of disease called acute fulminant hepatitis. This condition can be fatal if not treated quickly. Sufferers may collapse with fatigue, have yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice) and develop swelling in their abdomen.
There are several drug treatments available to treat hepatitis B. Patients may be put on a four months course of injection of the drug interferon. An alternative treatment is a drug called lamivudine which is taken orally once a day. In all, early detection of the problem goes a long way in minimizing the havoc it can cause if left to develop to the chronic state.