Image Caption: This electron micrograph reveals the presence of hepatitis-B virus HBV “Dane particles”, or virions. Credit: CDC/Wikipedia
Hepatitis B: What Is It?
Hepatitis simply means a swelling or inflammation of the liver. The type hepatitis that a person contracts (there are 5 common forms) affects their long-term prognosis. The most common and most severe of these different types of liver infection is Hepatitis B, which is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). It is typically transmitted from a carrier to a non-infected individual via infected blood or bodily fluids. This usually takes place through direct contact with blood (typically in health care settings), unprotected sex, tattoos or acupuncture with improperly cleaned equipment, shared needles during drug use or from an infected mother to her newborn child during the course of a vaginal delivery.
Like Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B also has a vaccine that can be administered prior to infection that can protect you from possible transmission of the virus. There are several simple and effective blood tests that can determine whether you have been infected by the disease. For those who have already contracted chronic Hepatitis B, there are also now anti-viral treatments available on the market that can help you to live a normal life with the condition.
The liver is one of the human body’s most important major organs. It is important for the storage of vitamins, sugars and iron, and is key player in the production of energy. It also aids in regulating the production and removal of cholesterol from your body and performs the vital function of filtering waste products, drugs and toxins from the body. It assists in the production of clotting factors in the blood that are needed to stop bleeding after a cut or injury. And the bile produced in the liver is essential to the digestion of food and the absorption of nutrients.
Along with each of the functions mentioned above, the liver helps the immune system to fight off infection. The liver is such a vital organ that untreated cases of liver failure usually result in death within one or two days. Fortunately, however, the liver is a very resilient organ and can continue to function even when up to 75 percent of it is diseased or has been removed. This is largely thanks to its amazing ability to create new liver tissue from the healthy liver cells that still remain.
Hepatitis B can be life-threatening due to the infections it causes that directly attack your liver. While an infected person may not experience symptoms for up to 6 months, some of the common early symptoms of Hepatitis B may include appetite loss, fatigue, low-grade fever, muscle and joint aches, nausea and vomiting, yellow skin or dark urine due to jaundice. If left untreated, sufferers of Hepatitis B can expect to experience cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, liver failure and even liver cancer.
If you think that you may have been exposed to Hepatitis B, it is important that you contact a medical professional immediately to determine your status and appropriate treatment options if necessary. With modern treatments and medications, most people can continue to lead a normal and healthy life with Hepatitis B, especially if it is detected early.
For more information on Hepatitis B, prevention an treatment, visit the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website titled “Hepatitis B Information for the Public.”