Hepatitis B virus is one of several viruses that can infect the liver. The presentation of the condition can vary from asymptomatic to a severe, life-threatening acute disorder. If hepatitis B becomes chronic, it can lead to severe disorders such as liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.1
Hepatitis B is more common when travelling in Asia, Africa and South America; however anyone who isn't vaccinated against hepatitis B could be at risk of contracting the virus. Hepatitis B is more infectious than many other viruses and can survive for at least seven days outside of the body.2
During the acute infection phase most people don't experience any symptoms. Those who do suffer symptoms can experience extreme fatigue, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. Yellowing of the skin and eyes, known as jaundice, is also a symptom. More than 90% cent of healthy adults who contract hepatitis B will recover completely and be rid of the disease within the first year. However, within some people it can cause chronic liver infection that will later develop into cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer. In addition, those infected may become chronic carriers and pass the disease on to others.1
Hepatitis B is transmitted between people by direct contact with infected blood and various body fluids or via sexual contact. In some cases, hepatitis B is transmitted from an infected mother to her newborn child at birth.1
Hepatitis B is also spread by needlestick injury, tattooing and piercing. Sexual transmission of hepatitis B may occur, particularly in unvaccinated men who have sex with men and heterosexual persons with multiple sex partners or contact with sex workers.2
A person with acute HB can become a chronic HB carrier and remain infectious. Chronic infection may lead to serious liver disease.
Infants born to infected mothers are at highest risk of becoming chronic HB carriers.2
Hepatitis B is a vaccine-preventable disease.2 The vaccine against type B hepatitis has been included in the routine immunization program for children in Israel, since 1992.3
Blood tests are available to diagnose and monitor hepatitis B.2 There is no specific treatment for acute hepatitis B. Therefore, care is aimed at maintaining comfort and adequate nutritional balance, including replacement of fluids lost from vomiting and diarrhea. Chronic hepatitis B infection can be treated with medicines. Treatment can slow the progression of the liver disease and improve long term survival.2
Someone who may have come into contact with the virus should seek advice from a healthcare provider.