Hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver caused by viruses, alcohol, toxins, drugs and chemicals. Viral hepatitis (caused by the Hepatitis A, B, C, D, E, or G virus) is one of the leading causes of death globally, accounting for over one million deaths every year. Hepatitis B and C infections are responsible for two in every three liver cancer deaths across the world. The most deadly form of hepatitis, Hepatitis B (caused by the Hepatitis B virus) is life-threatening and 100 times more infectious than HIV/AIDs. The Hepatitis B virus can survive outside the human body for up to seven days and has no cure. It will be assumed that such a deadly disease will be brought center-stage and addressed timely however that is not the case. It is estimated that over 25 million Nigerians are infected with Hepatitis B and 90 percent of those infected do not know. This reveals the need for widespread awareness, screening and vaccination against Hepatitis B.
This condition can be self-limiting (or acute) – that is lasting no more than six months following exposure to the viral strain or it can be chronic where it progresses to fibrosis (scarring), cirrhosis or liver cancer (following more than six months of exposure).
Although the different types of hepatitis may produce similar symptoms and effects on the liver, the severity and length of the diseases are dependent on the virus that causes it.
The virus, which causes Hepatitis B, is found in the blood and body fluids of infected people. It is most often spread among adults through sexual contact, by sharing needles or drug paraphernalia, getting piercings or tattoos in an unsterile environment, or from an HBV-infected mother to her new born during birth (also known as vertical transmission).
Symptoms of Hepatitis B
Most people do not experience any symptoms during the acute infection phase. However, some people have acute illness with symptoms that last several weeks, including:
• Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
• Dark urine
• Extreme fatigue
• Abdominal pain
• Light-coloured stool
A small subset of persons with acute hepatitis can develop acute liver failure, which can lead to death. In some people, the hepatitis B virus can also cause a chronic liver infection that can later develop into cirrhosis (a scarring of the liver) or liver cancer.
Diagnosing Hepatitis B
Blood testing is the only way to diagnose hepatitis B. Many people who have been infected with hepatitis B do not know they are infected so it is important for everyone to get tested.
Preventing Hepatitis B infection
Safe and effective hepatitis B vaccines are available. The vaccination is usually given as three doses over a six-month period. Hepatitis B vaccine is the first anti-cancer vaccine because it prevents liver cancer caused by chronic HBV infection. Also observe the following:
• Do not share sharp personal care tools like clippers, razor blades, manicure/pedicure sets, needles
• Dispose hospital wastes appropriately
• Observe standard precautions when handling blood or blood products or while administering injections/infusions.
• Avoid casual or unprotected sex especially with multiple partners.
• Always wipe blood spills with detergent or bleach
• Seek immediate help when exposed through any means.
Who should get vaccinated against Hepatitis B?
• Adults with diabetes age 19 through 59 years. Vaccination can be considered in those with diabetes who are age 60 and older.
• Sexually active adults who are not in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship.
• People whose sex partners are infected with hepatitis B.
• Persons seeking evaluation or treatment for a sexually transmitted disease.
• Men who have sex with men.
• Current or recent injection-drug users.
• People who have close household contact with someone infected with hepatitis B.
• Healthcare and public safety workers at risk for exposure to blood or blood-contaminated body fluids on the job.
• People with chronic liver disease, end-stage kidney disease, or HIV infection.
• Residents and staff of facilities for developmentally disabled people.
• Travellers to regions with moderate or high rates of hepatitis B infection.
• Anyone who wishes to be protected from hepatitis B infection.
Is there a cure for Hepatitis B?
There is no cure for this disease and the infected person has to be on medication for the rest of his/her life. It is important for those who are infected with hepatitis B to adhere to medication therapy as poor adherence can lead to the infection getting worse or individuals getting resistant to medication.