Hepatitis B is a potentially serious infection caused by the Hepatitis B virus (HBV) that can result in liver cancer, liver damage and, in severe cases, death. Moreover, HBV can manifest in two forms, acute and chronic infection.
An acute contraction refers to the period when a person first becomes infected by the Hepatitis B virus. In such instances, 4 out of 5 patients are able to beat the virus within 1-3 months and recover fully. Thus, acute contraction is a short-term and relatively minor medical issue.
On the other hand, a chronic infection represents the minority of patients who struggle to clear the infection within at least 6 months of having contracted it. Due to the long-term, chronic nature of this infection, this is when the potential for more serious illness arises.
Happily, however, with education, access to vaccination, and fast, effective treatment, the risk factors of contracting a Hepatitis B virus infection can be curtailed and significantly reduced.
If you're concerned you might have been exposed to HBV, here are some of the indicating symptoms to look out for.
However, be aware that many of these symptoms also align with other, less severe illnesses, so if you feel you might have contracted an infection, contact your doctor before drawing a conclusion yourself.
HBV symptoms in women are more or less identical to those found in men. However, it's worth restating that a pregnant woman who is infected with the virus can transmit the disease to her baby, so again, keep an eye open for:
You should see your doctor if you have any of the above symptoms and they persist for more than a few days or, indeed, worsen. Even if you don't think you have many of the symptoms of Hepatitis B, persistent symptoms may be indicative of another issue that also requires medical treatment.
However, if your doctor thinks that you might have an HBV infection, they will conduct a thorough physical examination and may also issue a blood test to assess the condition of your liver.
If the diagnosis is confirmed, you might be given a Hepatitis B vaccine to help combat the infection; however, there is no definitive cure for the virus.
Consequently, if you have acute Hepatitis B and your symptoms are relatively mild, your doctor is most likely to prescribe plenty of rest, fluids and a healthy diet to give your body the best chance of fighting the virus off internally.
Should you develop a severe chronic Hepatitis B infection, you're likely to be prescribed medicines to slow the inflammation of the liver and reduce your risk of developing liver cancer or liver disease.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends the prescription of either tenofovir or entecavir as powerful agents to help combat the virus. Crucially, though, amongst those diagnosed with chronic/long-term HBV, only 12-25% require such additional medical treatment.
The risks of Hepatitis B vary greatly depending on whether a patient is acutely or chronically infected.
As a general rule, those with an acute Hepatitis B infection will experience only minor symptoms, which, in turn, carry minor risks. As stated above, a balanced diet, rest and fluids are recommended to help combat such an infection.
However, in severe cases, some patients with acute symptoms can develop acute liver failure or other advanced complications such as cirrhosis of the liver. That being said, the majority of those who contract an acute infection will recover within 3 months.
Likewise, those who develop a chronic Hepatitis B infection are still unlikely to become seriously ill. However, chronic Hepatitis can cause a multitude of further complications. These include:
Aside from the potential medical complications of HBV, the risk of transmission is also one worth mentioning. Hepatitis is transferred from person to person via means of body fluids.
Thus, if you have contracted the virus or know someone who has, you must take personal responsibility to promote disease control and reduce the risk of transmission to yourself and others.
As stated above, the severity of a Hepatitis B infection can vary greatly and therefore, so can its impact on an infected person.
Those with a minor infection will find their lives impacted in a small way. In such instances, people with Hepatitis B must take extra care and responsibility to control the virus and prevent spreading it to others.
Thus, until you are definitively free of HBV, it's best to avoid the practices stated above (and many of them even if you aren't infected). Again, these include unprotected sex, the communal use of objects that may contain blood or other body fluids etc.
If, however, you develop a more serious infection that requires Hepatitis B treatment, your life is likely to be impacted more. Again, this depends on the severity of your condition, and, clearly, those who are hospitalised are most greatly impacted as they spend time in medical care receiving treatment.
Those with a severe but stable infection will be more impacted by the daily effects of Hepatitis B symptoms and also the inconvenience of treatments. These include the receipt of a Hepatitis B vaccine (Hepatitis B immune globulin), blood tests and, of course, oral medication.
Ultimately, living with Hepatitis B, both acute and chronic, can have a great impact on your life. However, the vast majority of people who contract viral Hepatitis experience moderate or minor symptoms and recover within 1-3 months.
However, the potential for severe illness makes avoiding pursuits that increase the likelihood of contraction crucial.
Happily, the incidence of HBV transmission is on a downward trend.
In fact, as of 2016, only around 20,000 people were confirmed to have viral Hepatitis B infected blood. This is down from an average of 200,000 per year throughout the 1980s.
In the UK, the most likely age group to become infected are those between the ages of 20 and 49. However, 95% of those in that age bracket who are tested for Hepatitis B and receive a positive result will recover without developing a chronic infection or requiring further treatment.
In babies, 90% who contract the virus will develop a chronic variation, while amongst those aged between 1-5, the percentage drops to between 25% and 50%.
Likewise, 20% of older children are likely to develop chronic Hepatitis B.
The length of time that a patient experiences HBV infection symptoms are subjective.
More specifically, depending on the severity of the infection, whether a person is simply just a carrier of Hepatitis B (in which case they will experience no symptoms) and indeed the speed and effectiveness of their treatment.
Approximately 5% of the world's population are asymptomatic carriers of the sexually transmitted infection, and what's more, those with Hepatitis B infected blood won't necessarily experience all of the symptoms listed.
On a base level, however, if you do become infected with the Hepatitis B virus acutely and experience symptoms, successful management and recovery dictate that your symptoms should persist for anywhere between 1-3 months, easing as you start to overcome the infection.
People with chronic Hepatitis are more likely to experience symptoms for a longer duration. As previously discussed, chronic Hepatitis can last beyond 6 months, and so symptoms will persist in tandem with your state of infection.
No, Hepatitis B symptoms are not always obvious.
As alluded to earlier, many of the symptoms associated with a Hepatitis B infection are also closely associated with a number of other potential issues.
Moreover, many who contract the virus don't experience symptoms at all. Thus, if you are concerned that you've contracted the virus, it's important to consult your doctor immediately so that you can receive a diagnosis forthwith.
All babies should receive a Hepatitis B vaccination as infection can persist for many years within children, potentially causing a serious liver infection and damage.
Aside from infants, minorities that are most at risk of contracting Hepatitis B should also be inoculated. These include: