What is Hepatitis B, what are the symptoms, is it contagious and can it be cured?

HEPATITIS B is a viral infection that can cause a short-term infection and inflammation of the liver.

But what are the symptoms and how can it be transmitted or prevented?

What is Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis is an umbrella term describing inflammation of the liver and can be the result of heavy drinking or a viral infection.

There are several different types of the disease which are caused by different viruses and are treated in different ways.

Hepatitis B doesn’t cause any obvious symptoms in adults and typically passes within a few months without treatment, but for children it can eventually cause serious liver damage.

The virus is less common in the UK than other areas of the world, but there is a vaccine available for those who are at a high risk of getting it.

World Hepatitis Day is on July 28. It aims to bring the world together to raise awareness of the disease.

Each year there are around 64,000 deaths from liver cancer, cirrhosis or other chronic liver disease that can be attributed to HBV and HCV.

World Hepatitis Day has been observed each year since 2011 – on the birthday of Nobel-prize winning scientist Dr Baruch Blumberg, who discovered the Hepatitis B virus in 1967.

What are the symptoms of Hepatitis B?

Many people have hepatitis B without realising, as some don’t experience any symptoms and their bodies fight it off without treatment.

If people do experience symptoms, these start to become noticeable around two or three months after being exposed to the virus.

Symptoms include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Flu-like symptoms such as tiredness, fever and aches
  • Abdominal pain
  • Feeling sick
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes

If you think you have been exposed to the hep B virus or display any of the symptoms, you should seek medical advice.

A simple blood test determine if you have the virus.

The different types of Hepatitis explained…

Hepatitis A

  • Caused by Hepatitis A virus
  • Caught by consuming food or drink contamined with the poo of an infected person
  • Usually passes within a few months
  • There's no specific treatment

Hepatitis B

  • Caused by Hepatitis B virus
  • Spread through the blood of an infected person
  • Commonly transferred through infected needles, from pregnant women to their babies or through unprotected sex
  • Most adults infected are able to fight off the virus and recover in a few months
  • Children can develop chronic hepatitis which can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer
  • It can be treated with antiviral medication

Hepatitis C

  • Caused by Hepatitis C virus
  • Spread through blood-to-blood contact with an infected person
  • Commonly spread through sharing needles
  • One in four fight off the infection themselves
  • For the others it can stay in their system for many years
  • These chronic hepatitis C cases can cause cirrhosis and liver failure

Hepatitis D

  • Caused by Hepatitis D virus
  • Only affects people already affected by Hepatitis B
  • Spread through blood-to-blood or sexual contact with an infected person

Hepatitis E

  • Caused by Hepatitis E virus
  • Mainly spread through consumption of uncooked meat
  • Generally mild and short term

Alcoholic hepatitis

  • Caused by excessive drinking
  • Can cause sudden jaundice and liver failure
  • Stopping drinking will usually allow your body to recover
  • Risk can be reduced by reducing alcohol consumption

What is the treatment for Hepatitis B?

There is a vaccination available in the UK for Hepatitis B which is recommended for people in high risk groups.

These groups include health care workers, people who inject drugs, men who have sex with men and children whose mums are infected.

The majority of people infected by hep B can fully recover within one to three months, and then will be immune for life.

There is also a vaccination available for Hepatitis A, but currently not for Hepatitis C, D or E.

Is Hepatitis B contagious?

The virus is spread by sexual contact without protection, sharing needles and from mother to baby.

Hep B is found in the blood and also in bodily fluids such as semen and vaginal fluids.

It cannot be transmitted through kissing, sneezing, sharing cutlery and holding hands.



Can you prevent against Hepatitis B?

There is currently a vaccination available for all babies in the UK born on or after August 1, 2017.

You can also get the vaccine if you are at a high risk of the infection or complications from it.

This high risk group includes people who inject drugs, people who have sexual partners with hep B and also babies born to hep B-infected mums.

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