There are several forms of infections around us that can trigger certain kinds of illnesses in the body. How much a disease will affect you largely depends upon your immunity levels, how much of prevention you have taken against the virus and of course how powerful the infection is.
Hepatitis B is one such powerful virus that is known to infect the liver of a person. In some cases, hepatitis B could be more temporary phenomena that exist for a short time post which the patient makes a recovery. This is known as acute hepatitis B.
In a few other people the virus may have more severe implications causing a long-term infection known as chronic hepatitis B. When chronic hepatitis B strikes, it can cause severe damages, particularly to the liver. Young kids and infants who are infected by the hepatitis B virus are more likely to experience chronic hepatitis B which can make their recovery from the illness difficult and prolonged.
Hepatitis B disease in some people can be extremely misguiding as one may not know at all that they are suffering from the disease. One may not experience any symptoms yet have the virus in their system. Sometimes the symptoms are very similar to that of the flu. What is more important is it doesn’t matter if your symptoms are healthy or not, but as long as the virus is alive within you, you act as a carrier of the infection and can always infect others.
What Triggers the Hepatitis B Infection in a Person?
The prime cause of the hepatitis B infection is the hepatitis B virus. This virus spreads from one person to another through contact with the blood and other body fluids in the infected person’s body.
The hepatitis B infection can be quickly passed on from one person to the other by:
Having unprotected intercourse with the person infected with the virus: It is easy to get infected with hepatitis B virus by having unprotected intercourse with the infected person. When the blood, saliva or semen from the infected person enters the body of the uninfected person, then the hepatitis B infected can be easily contracted.
Sharing needles with the infected person particularly while injecting drugs: The hepatitis B virus is quickly spread by sharing the contaminated syringes that have been contaminated with the infected person’s blood.
Getting a tattoo or piercing done with tools that have been used the infected and not sterilized: Getting a tattoo done with the same needle as used by the infected person or coming in direct contact with a needle that has been contaminated can be a massive risk for acquiring the hepatitis B infection.
Sharing personal care items like razors or toothbrushes with an infected person.
Infected mother to the child: Expecting mothers who are infected with the hepatitis B virus can easily pass the virus to the baby in their womb during childbirth. However, in many cases, the newborn baby is vaccinated immediately after birth, and this can help the baby avoid the infection. Speak to your hepatologist near you about your chances of being infected by the hepatitis B virus if you are pregnant or planning to conceive.
Unlike the hepatitis A virus which spreads through contaminated food, the hepatitis B virus does not spread through food or water. However, there are chances that the infection can spread through food that is tainted by the saliva of the infected person.
How Can You Distinguish Between Acute and Chronic Hepatitis B Infection?
The hepatitis B infection has two primary forms one being a shorter duration of the virus that is known as acute infection and the other being a more long-term form of the illness which is known as chronic hepatitis B infection.
The acute form of the hepatitis B infection lasts for a duration that is lesser than six months. The immune system can fight the hepatitis B virus causing an acute form of the disease causing the body to recover completely from the condition within a few months. Most people getting a hepatitis B infection generally get an acute form of the infection, but sometimes it can progress to the chronic type of hepatitis B infection as well.
The chronic form of the hepatitis B infection could last for up to six months or more. When the immune system of a person fails to fight the acute infection the hepatitis B virus could last for an entire lifetime eventually resulting in more severe forms of illnesses like cirrhosis or liver cancer.
The chances of a chronic hepatitis B infection are much higher when the person is younger, and hence the risk is unusually high in infants and those younger than the age of 5. Chronic infection in many cases can show no symptoms for a long time or until the person falls seriously ill with liver disease.
Hepatitis B in a Pregnant Woman
Hepatitis B infection in an expecting mother can easily pass to the baby at birth. However, the disease is rarely acquired during the pregnancy. Mostly it would have affected the mother before she even conceived the baby.
An infant who is affected by the hepatitis B virus which is left untreated could suffer from long-term implications on the health of the liver. Infants with mothers who are suffering from the hepatitis B infection should be immunized with the hepatic B immune globulin vaccine at the time of birth or within the first year of life.
What are the Signs to Recognize a Hepatitis B Infection?
Many people suffering from the acute form of the hepatitis B infection do not see any symptoms. However, one does have symptoms it may include one or more of the following:
- Unexplained tiredness and extreme fatigue
- Mild fever
- A severe Headache.
- Nausea, Vomiting or sudden loss of appetite
- Feeling of discomfort on the right side of the belly under the rib cage.
- Dark brown colored stools
- Dark yellow urine that could be indicative of jaundice
- Jaundice which causes the skin and the eyes to turn yellow
In case of chronic infection, there are very few or no prominent symptoms that one notices. It is effortless to catch the infection and stay infected without really knowing it. You may not know that you have a hepatitis B infection until you get a routine blood test done.
If one of your close family members is suffering from a hepatitis B infection, also you may want to get yourself tested. In some cases, the disease goes undiagnosed until one faces more severe conditions like liver cancer or liver cirrhosis.
What Happens in a Hepatitis B Infection?
Acute or a short-term infection is more common in case of a hepatitis B infection. People start to feel better immediately after two to three week. The antibodies that fight the infection generated from the immune system begin to get created in this time which eventually provides lifetime protection against the risk of future infections from the same virus. For a few people, the infection is likely to live in their body for six months and in some cases lasting even beyond that. The disease could turn out to be more complicated or even life-threatening in older adults. When you have the infection live in your body for more than six months you are said to have contracted a chronic form of the disease.
Whether or not your infection will be chronic depends upon the age at which you contract the disease first. The risk is higher in the case of newborn babies who are infected by the virus at the time of birth.
The Risk Factors of the Infection
For some people, chronic hepatitis B also doesn’t lead to many complications. However, around 15 to 25 out of 100 people suffering from a chronic infection is likely to face life-threatening complications like cirrhosis or liver cancer. Having some live viruses in the body can increase the chances of facing severe difficulties from this disease.
The main risk factors that are associated with getting liver cancer due to a chronic hepatitis B infection include:
Men are more likely to face complications due to the disease compared to women
Family history or genetic tendency of developing liver cancer
Being over 40 years of age, having cirrhosis, and also having hepatitis C.
People suffering from the hepatitis B infection should refrain from engaging in high-risk behavior like having multiple intercourse partners or indulging in drug abuse. These activities can also increase one’s chances of acquiring deadly infections like AIDS.