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Hepatitis B is liver inflammation caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). HBV is one of five types of hepatitis virus. The others are hepatitis A, C, D, and E.
HBV infection can be acute or chronic.
Acute hepatitis B causes symptoms to appear quickly in adults. Children rarely develop acute HBV. Any infections are far more likely to be chronic.
HBV is highly contagious. It spreads through contact with infected blood, saliva, and other bodily fluids. Symptoms may not occur for a few days, or longer, after contracting the virus. However, you are still contagious, even without symptoms.
Possible methods of transmission include:
Certain groups are at particularly high risk of HBV infection. These include:
People who develop chronic HBV have a high risk of serious complications. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that 25 percent of adults who develop hepatitis B during childhood will later die from complications (WHO).
Hepatitis B is the most common form of hepatitis in Asia.
Symptoms of HBV may not be apparent for months or years. However, common symptoms include:
Any symptoms of HBV should be treated right away. In addition, you should let your doctor know immediately if you have been exposed to hepatitis B. You may be able to prevent infection.
Hepatitis B is usually diagnosed through routine or requested screening tests. People are often screened for HBV when they:
To screen for HBV, your doctor will perform a series of blood tests. Three tests are used to determine the state of your infection:
A hepatitis B surface antigen test shows if you are contagious. A positive result means you are infected and can spread the virus. A negative result means you don’t have HBV. This test does not distinguish between chronic and acute infection.
The hepatitis B core antigen test shows whether you are currently infected with HBV. Positive results usually mean you have chronic HBV. It may also mean you are recovering from acute HBV.
An antibody hepatitis B surface antigen test shows whether you are immune to HBV. A positive test means you cannot contract HBV. There are two possible reasons for a positive test. You may have been vaccinated. You may also have recovered from an acute infection with HBV.
HBV symptoms can mimic the symptoms of other conditions, including liver diseases.
Liver function tests check your blood for heightened enzymes from your liver. The results of this test can reveal whether your liver is being stressed. It can also identify signs of disease.
If these tests are positive, you might be tested for HBV. Hepatitis viruses are a major cause of liver damage.
If you have been in contact with someone who has HBV within the last 24 hours, talk to your doctor immediately. It may be possible to prevent infection with an injection of HBV immune globulin. This is a solution of antibodies against HBV.
Acute hepatitis B usually doesn’t require treatment. Most people will overcome an acute infection on their own. However, bed rest will help you recover.
Chronic HBV may be treated with antiviral medications. These help you fight the virus. They may also reduce the risk of future liver complications.
If your liver has been seriously damaged by HBV, you may need a liver transplant. Your liver will be removed and replaced with a donor liver. Most donor livers come from deceased donors.
If treatment for chronic HBV isn’t administered early, complications may occur.
Another possible complication is Hepatitis D infection. This virus is only contracted by people with HBV. A combined infection can cause serious liver problems.
The hepatitis B vaccine is the best way to prevent HBV infection. Vaccination is optional. However, it recommended for the following groups:
In other words, just about everyone should be vaccinated. It is a relatively inexpensive and very safe vaccine.
There are also other ways to reduce your risk of HBV infection. You should always:
Written by: April Kahn
Medically reviewed by George Krucik, MD
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