Hepatitis B is a critical viral infectious disease caused by the Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) that attacks the liver and disrupts its daily functions. It causes severe liver damage by scarring and inflammation of the liver tissues leading to a number of acute and chronic liver diseases.
World Health Organization (WHO) has regarded it as a serious life threatening disease worldwide that is putting people at risk of deaths from liver diseases like liver cirrhosis, and liver cancer. Its infection rate is alarmingly high with almost 1 in 3 individuals being infected and living with chronic HBV infection.
Hepatitis B can infect everyone, especially children. It spreads when one is in close contact with an infected person or their body fluids. It is essential to take proper precautions to stop its expansion. Currently the only way to stop the spread of Hepatitis B Virus is vaccination that provide 90% protection.
The Hepatitis B Virus can survive up to 7 days without a host and can infect those who are unvaccinated. Its incubation period is 30 to 180 days where it is detected within 30 to 60 days. The rate of transmission and severity of developing chronic hepatitis B infection is high among infants and children which emphasizes the importance of vaccination during childhood.
Hepatitis B infection can be classified into acute and chronic depending on the severity and how long the infection lasts.
What is Acute Hepatitis B infection?
It is a short-term Hepatitis B infection whose symptoms last for several weeks. But in some cases, the symptoms may last up to 6 months. If the person infected with HB Virus has a good immunity then their body can fight off the infection. In cases where the immunity is weak, the Hepatitis B infection goes on to the next stage that is chronic infection.
What is Chronic Hepatitis B infection?
Chronic Hepatitis B is when the symptoms of infection last for a longer time. It is extremely common among infants and children between 1 to 5 years of age. The chances of developing chronic Hepatitis B infection is greater if one is infected from infancy that is right after birth. About 95% of infants develop chronic Hepatitis B infection. Adults are less likely to get infected directly but can get infected with acute HBV infection that further escalates to chronic HBV infection.
Is Hepatitis B infection common?
Yes. Hepatitis B is a growing concern among children as well as adults of all age groups in middle-income countries like India.
The most common way of infection is from mother to baby during child-birth due to blood exchange between them. The child goes on to live with Hepatitis B virus infection and may infect other individuals.
The HBV infection shows no peculiar symptoms of occurrence, hence, many individuals that might have HBV infection would unknowingly spread it to others who are unvaccinated, putting themselves and others’ lives at risk of HBV infection and its escalation into severe liver diseases like liver failure.
Who is at risk of developing Hepatitis B infection?
People of all age groups are at risk of developing Hepatitis B infection, but children possess a greater risk. Infants can get infected through their mothers during childbirth, children below age 5 years are also the most commonly infected with HBV. Adults are more prone to get infected due to unsanitary practices and coming in direct contact with the Hepatitis B patient.
Although the infection rate is high in children, if treated with right medication at right time and vaccinating against HBV can help in preventing chronic Hepatitis B infection and transmission.
However, in adults, chronic infection is spread via an already infected person that further escalates to chronic liver damage.
How does Hepatitis B Virus infection spread?
Hepatitis B is highly contagious and spreads through contact with any belongings or body fluids of a Hepatitis B infected person. Some of the common reasons are as follows:
Direct contact with a HBV infected person
From infected Mother to child during childbirth
Exposure to body fluids of HBV infected person such as blood, saliva, menstrual, vaginal and seminal fluids
Sexual intercourse with an HBV infected person
Traveling to countries with pre-existing HBV infected people
Sharing of needles or syringes in hospitals, and tattoo places
From people using intravenous drugs
What are the symptoms of Hepatitis B Virus infection?
Most Hepatitis B patients are asymptomatic in the initial 2 to 6 months of infection. After 6 months of infections people with acute Hepatitis B show the following symptoms:
Feeling tired all the time
General feeling of being unwell
Joint and muscle pain
Loss of appetite
Pain in the abdomen
Dark yellow urine
Jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes)
What can help against Hepatitis B Virus infection?
At present, there is no treatment for Hepatitis B infection except vaccination and the symptoms may take months to be detected. In certain cases, the chances of HBV infection relapsing are recorded that makes the infected person weaker and more susceptible to developing chronic liver failure.
In conditions like this, it is advised to take proper rest and practice safe and hygienic activities to reduce the infection rate.
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