What Are the Basics of Hepatitis B?

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What Is Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a serious liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). There are two types of it: acute and chronic hepatitis B. Acute hepatitis B is short-term, lasting less than six months, while chronic hepatitis B lasts six months or longer. Having chronic hepatitis increases your risk of developing more serious diseases, such as liver failure, liver cancer or cirrhosis.

What Are the Symptoms?

Symptoms of hepatitis B range from mild to severe. They usually appear about 1-4 months after your infection. Typical symptoms may include:
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine
  • Fever
  • Joint pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)

What Causes Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B infection is caused by the hepatitis B virus. The spreading of HBV is through blood, semen or other body fluids. It does not spread by sneezing or coughing. Common ways of HBV transmission are:
  • Birth to an infected mother
  • Unprotected sexual contact with an infected person
  • Sharing of contaminated needles, syringes, or other injection drug equipment
  • Needlesticks or other sharp instrument injurie

How to Diagnose Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is diagnosed with a simple blood test. You can take the test at your doctor's office or local health clinic. According to your blood test, you and your health care provider will know three test results:
  1. HBsAg (Hepatitis B surface antigen) - A "positive" or "reactive" HBsAg test result means that the person is infected with hepatitis B.
  2. anti-HBs or HBsAb (Hepatitis B surface antibody) - A "positive" or "reactive" anti-HBs (or HBsAb) test result indicates that the person is under protection against the hepatitis B virus.
  3. anti-HBc or HBcAb (Hepatitis B core antibody) - A "positive" or "reactive" anti-HBc (or HBcAb) test result indicates a past or current hepatitis B infection.
Your health care provider may ask to check your blood again in six months after your first visit to confirm your hepatitis B status.  

What Are the Treatments for Hepatitis B?

Treatment to prevent hepatitis B infection after exposure If you know you have been exposed to the hepatitis B virus and you are not sure if you've been vaccinated, call your doctor immediately. An injection of vaccine given within 12 hours of exposure may help protect you from getting hepatitis B. Treatment for acute hepatitis B infection If your doctor finds your hepatitis B infection is acute, you may not need treatment. Instead, your doctor might suggest proper rest, nutrition and plenty of fluids while your body fights the infection. Treatment for chronic hepatitis B infection Most people diagnosed with chronic hepatitis B infection need treatment for the rest of their lives. Treatment helps reduce the risk of liver disease and prevents you from passing the infection to others. Treatment for chronic hepatitis B may include:
  • Immune modulator Drugs – These drugs will strengthen the immune system to kill the hepatitis B. They are given as a shot over 6 months to 1 year.
  • Antiviral Drugs – These drug will help to decrease the inflammation and damage of your liver. They are taken as a pill once a day for at least 1 year and usually longer.
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