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What is Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is an inflammation of the liver caused by the hepatitis virus. People who become infected with this virus in childhood have a very high chance (> 80%) of carrying the virus for life and some of them eventually develop cirrhosis,liver failure and liver cancer. These people do not have any symptoms until the disease is at an advanced stage. If an adult gets infected with hepatitis B, she or he usually develops acute hepatitis with flu-like symptoms and jaundice and only a minority progress to chronic hepatitis and cirrhosis.

All over the world, 350 million people have chronic hepatitis B and 1 million die of hepatitis B related illness every year.

What should you know to keep others from getting infected with HBV?

  • Your sexual partner should get the hepatitis B vaccine. If not, you should use latex condoms correctly every time you have sex
  • All people who live with you should get the hepatitis B vaccine
  • Do not share anything that might have blood on it, such as a toothbrush or razor
  • Do not donate your blood, body organs, other tissues or sperm
  • Cover your cuts and open sores.

What if I am pregnant?

Your baby can get infected with HBV during birth, but this can be prevented:

  • Make sure that your baby gets an infection called hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG) and the first dose of hepatitis B vaccine within 12 hours of birth
  • Ask your doctor when your baby should get the next dose of the Hepatitis B vaccine
  • Your baby should get a blood test after the vaccine series is completed to be sure he or she is protected
  • It is okay for you to breastfeed your baby.

You cannot spreas HBV BY:

  • Sneezing or coughing
  • Kissing or hugging
  • Breastfeeding
  • Food or water
  • Sharing eating utensils or drinking glasses
  • Casual contact (such as an office setting)

You should not be excluded from work, school or other daily activities because you have Hepatitis B.

How serious is Hepatitis B?

Forty million people living in India have chronic hepatitis B. Not all people who are infected with HBV look or feel sick. They can have the virus and not have symptoms or even know they are sick. Out of all patients with hepatitis B only 10-20% will develop chronic hepatitis and cirrhosis, the remaining 80-90% will remain 'carriers' (having the virus but not the disease).

How can I take care of my liver?

  • See your hepatologist (liver specialist) regularly and do your liver profile at regular intervals or as advised
  • Do not drink alcohol
  • Check with your hepatologist before taking any new medicines,including over-the-counter and herbal medicines
  • If you have liver damage from Hepatitis B, you should get tested for Hepatitis C and get vaccinated against Hepatitis A

How could you have been infected with HBV?

HBV is spread by exposure to blood or body fluids from an infected person. You may have been infected if:

  • Your mother was infected with hepatitis B when you were born.
  • You have sex with an infected person.
  • You lived with an infected person.
  • You were given hepatitis B contaminated blood/blood products.
  • You have had infections or procedures done on you with needles or instruments which were not adequately sterilised.
  • You are a healthcare worker and were exposed to blood at work.

Is there treatment for Hepatitis B?

If you have hepatitis B you should see a liver specialist who will order a blood test to see if you have mild or severe liver damage and what is the level of the virus in your blood. This will determine if you should be treated. Some people with chronic hepatitis B may need antiviral medications to suppress the virus and prevent further damage to their liver.

The approved treatment for hepatitis B includes Interferon, Lamivudine, Telbivudine, Adefovir, Tenofovir and/or Entecavir.

Facts at a glance

  • Hepatitis B is a viral infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV)
  • The hepatitis B virus is transmitted through body fluids such as blood, semen and vaginal secretions
  • Many hepatitis B patients have none or very mild symptoms
  • In a small proportion of patients hepatitis B persists as a long-term or chronic condition that can lead to cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer
  • About 5% of adults infected will develop a chronic infection. However, up to 90% of people infected at birth will develop a chronic infection
  • As many as 2-7% of Indians have hepatitis B
  • Hepatitis B can be transmitted from mother to child during birth
  • Vaccination is the best way to prevent hepatitis B and is recommended for all infants and children, as well as adults at risk
  • For those who have chronic hepatitis B, there are a number of effective treatment options available today.
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