Understanding Hepatitis B:
Hepatitis B is a serious liver disease caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). The virus can affect people of all ages. Once infected, some people carry the virus their whole lives. This is called “chronic” infection and it can lead to liver cirrhosis, liver cancer, and death.
The virus is found in the blood and body fluids of infected people. It is most often spread among adults through sexual contact, or from an HBV-infected mother to her newborn during birth. HBV can also be spread through normal household contact with HBV-infected people.
Symptoms of Hepatitis B:
Some people get sick within the first six months after getting infected. The symptoms of this “acute” hepatitis are loss of appetite, tiredness, stomach-ache, nausea, and vomiting. These people might also experience yellowing of the whites of the eyes (jaundice) or joint pain.
For some people, acute infection leads to chronic infection. People with chronic HBV infection usually do not feel sick for many years, but will have symptoms if they develop the most serious complications from hepatitis B, like cirrhosis or liver cancer. A person infected with the virus can pass it on to others even if he or she does not feel sick or show symptoms.
There is no specific treatment for newly acquired HBV infection. Medicines are available to treat people with chronic hepatitis B. These medicines work for some people, but not for all.
Prevention of Hepatitis B:
Safe, effective hepatitis B vaccines are available. The vaccination series 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.
Who should get hepatitis B vaccine?
Hepatitis B vaccine is safe and effective. You cannot get hepatitis B from the vaccine. The most common side effect of the vaccine is soreness at the injection site. As with any medicine, there are very small risks that serious problems could occur after getting the vaccine. However, the potential risks associated with hepatitis B disease are much greater than the potential risks associated with the hepatitis B vaccine.