Meeti, 21, was diagnosed with “jaundice.” After 3 days of treatment she lost consciousness, admitted to a hospital, and was diagnosed with deadly hepatitis B. She had liver cirrhosis and her parents couldn’t afford it. She died on 7th day in the hospital.
According to WHO statistics, 2 billion people worldwide have been infected with hepatitis B virus and about 6 lakh people die every year from it. Hepatitis B is a potentially life-threatening liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus. It is a major global health problem and the most serious type of viral hepatitis. It can cause chronic liver disease and puts people at high risk of death from cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer.
A vaccine against hepatitis B has been available since 1982. Hepatitis B vaccine is 95% effective in preventing infection and its chronic consequences, and is the first vaccine against a major human cancer.
What Is Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis is an infection of the liver. The group of viruses that infect the liver are called hepatitis viruses. Some types of hepatitis can cause very serious diseases and — in extreme cases — may lead to death.
Three types of hepatitis virus can be sexually transmitted. The type of hepatitis most likely to be sexually transmitted is hepatitis B (HBV). Hepatitis B is spread through semen, vaginal fluids, blood, and urine. Most of the infection occurs among people who are from ages 20 to 49.
What are the Symptoms of Hepatitis B?
Because hepatitis B often has no symptoms, most people are not aware that they have the infection. About 1 out of 2 adults who have it never have hepatitis B symptoms. When hepatitis B symptoms do occur, they usually appear between six weeks and six months after infection.
When hepatitis B symptoms do develop, the ones most likely to happen first include:
- extreme tiredness
- tenderness and pain in the lower abdomen
- loss of appetite
- nausea, vomiting
- pain in the joints
Later hepatitis B symptoms include:
- more severe abdominal pain
- dark urine
- pale-colored bowel movements
- jaundice — yellowing of the skin and eyes
How Can I Know if I Have Hepatitis B?
A health care provider can do a blood test to see if you have hepatitis — whether or not you have hepatitis B symptoms.
How serious is Hepatitis B?
Over time, approximately 15%–25% of people with chronic hepatitis B develop serious liver problems, including liver damage, cirrhosis, liver failure, and liver cancer. Every year, approximately 3,000 people in the United States and more than 600,000 people worldwide die from hepatitis B-related liver disease.
Is There a Cure for Hepatitis B?
No, there is no medicine that can cure hepatitis. But in most cases, hepatitis B goes away by itself within 4 to 8 weeks. More than 9 out of 10 adults with HBV recover completely.
However, about 1 out of 20 people who get HBV as adults will be “carriers” and have chronic (long-term) infection with HBV. Nine out of 10 infants who get HBV at birth will have chronic infection unless they receive immediate treatment. Most HBV carriers remain contagious for the rest of their lives.
HBV carriers are more likely to pass the infection to other people. Chronic HBV infections can lead to severe liver disease — including liver damage (cirrhosis) and liver cancer. About 1 out of 5 people with chronic HBV infection die from the infection.
There are drugs that can help treat chronic hepatitis B. Keep in mind that pregnant women can’t use these drugs.
Hepatitis B is very contagious. It is passed through an exchange of semen, vaginal fluids, blood, and urine by:
- having sexual intercourse without a latex or female condom.
- having unprotected oral sex.
- sharing needles and other “works” to inject drugs.
- sharing personal hygiene utensils such as toothbrushes and razors.
- accidental pricks with contaminated needles in the course of health care.
HBV can also be passed from mother to infant during birth.
Pregnancy and Hepatitis B
Pregnant women who know they may have been exposed to hepatitis B should be tested before giving birth. Other women should consider testing. Talk with your health care provider to see if testing may be right for you either before you get pregnant, or during your pregnancy.
Unless treated at birth, 9 out of 10 infants born to women with HBV will carry the virus. Immediate treatment of the infant can be 90 to 95 percent effective. Treatment includes a shot at birth, followed by two more shots given during the next six months.
How Can I Prevent Getting or Spreading Hepatitis B?
There are several ways to help prevent getting hepatitis B or spreading it to other people.
- You can abstain from sexual intercourse.
- If you choose to have sex, use female or latex condoms every time.
- Get the hepatitis B vaccine.
- Don’t “shoot” drugs, especially with “unclean” needles or “works.”
- Don’t share items such as razors or toothbrushes — they may have infected blood on them.
Should I Get the Hepatitis B Vaccine? Should My Child Get It?
Today, the hepatitis B vaccine is routinely given to infants and children up to 18 years of age. But adults who are at risk for getting HBV should also get vaccinated.
Hepatitis B Symptoms
The symptoms of acute Hepatitis B last, on average, one to three months. While about 10 percent of those infected will develop chronic Hepatitis B, the remaining 90 percent will develop antibodies that confer lifelong immunity to this virus. Symptoms of acute Hepatitis B may include jaundice, fatigue, flu-like symptoms, digestive problems, liver discomfort, and itchy skin.
Seven Ways to Ease Acute Hepatitis B Symptoms
Hepatitis B runs its inevitable course. However there are some tips can help ease its discomfort.
- Rest – When your doctor suggests slowing down during acute Hepatitis B infection, listen. Staying in bed may not be necessary, but listening to your body and resting when tired is crucial for a full recovery.
- Eat Well – Receiving adequate nutrition is essential for feeling better. Since nausea and loss of appetite tends to worsen as the day progresses, nutritionists advise eating a substantial (but not heavy) meal in the morning and lighter meals later in the day. Include more whole foods, such as fresh produce, high fiber carbohydrates and lean proteins.
- Combat Nausea – Eating frequent, small meals generally bodes well for nausea sufferers. Two more natural ways to ease nausea include consuming ginger (freshly brewed ginger tea is ideal) and applying pressure to the acupressure point used for seasickness, approximately 1.5 inches above the wrist crease in the center of the forearm.
- Keep Hydrated – For those who have been vomiting or having diarrhea, staying hydrated is very important when fighting Hepatitis B. Drink plenty of water and consume fruit juice and broth if tolerable. Coconut water, sports drinks or other rehydration beverages can help replace electrolytes lost from vomiting or diarrhea. Avoid drinks known to aid dehydration, such as coffee and soda.
- Skip Tylenol – Although you may typically rely on acetaminophen to get you through fevers or body aches, avoid this over-the-counter pain reliever if acute Hepatitis B infection is suspected. Acetaminophen can worsen your liver’s condition, so discuss alternative fever-reducers/pain relievers with your physician.
- Soothe Itchiness – Itchy skin can be eased by keeping cool, wearing cotton clothing, avoiding hot baths/showers, applying cool compresses to affected areas or using nonprescription medicines such as Benadryl or Chlor-Trimeton (consult with your doctor first to make sure these drugs are safe for you).
Parents please make sure that you give your children the gift of health by having them vaccinated against hepatitis B. Get informed, get tested, and spread the message.