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Hepatitis B Facts, Transmission and Symptoms

What is hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is one of a group of viruses known to cause infection and inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis B is the most common cause of cirrhosis and liver cancer worldwide, with approximately 2 billion people infected. Roughly 400 million of these infections are chronic. Of the 400 million chronic HBV carriers, an estimated 65 million will die from the disease. Fortunately, with early diagnosis and treatment it is possible to prevent the virus from developing into a chronic state.

How is hepatitis B transmitted?

Hepatitis B has been found in blood, sweat, tears, saliva, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk, but it is from contact with blood and semen that most transmissions occur. HBV is transmitted via exposure to contaminated blood or blood products, sexual contact with an infected person or from mother to child in the womb. Transmission through blood contact occurs most often by needle-sharing, accidental needlestick injuries and blood transfusions, although the risk from receipt of blood products is very low due to effective screening methods.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis B?

We generally discourage focusing on the presence or absence of symptoms in favor of risk assessment and testing. In the case of hepatitis B this is particularly good advice, since symptom presentation in the case of HBV is unpredictable at best. Fatigue, fever, loss of appetite, abdominal discomfort, rash, nausea, vomiting and jaundice have been linked to hepatitis B infection. Severity of symptoms can range from no obvious symptoms to severe liver problems and death.

Can hepatitis B be treated or cured?

Hepatitis B vaccinations are available and seem to be effective in preventing the disease. Many cases of HBV remit on their own, leaving the infected person with antibody based immunity against subsequent infection. For those who don’t clear, treatment with interferon, lamivudine and other such medications can help.




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