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Hepatitis B

 

Hepatitis B is the most common infection affecting the liver.  It is caused by the Hepatitis B virus through contact with someone else’s blood or body fluids. It enters the body and travels to the liver via the bloodstream where it attaches itself to healthy cells and proliferates. Infection of the liver can lead to cirrhosis (scarred liver), or even liver cancer. Hepatitis B affects people of all ages, and can also be passed from a pregnant mother to her baby. An acute infection is considered to last about six months, whilst beyond this it is considered to be chronic.      

 

Causes  

Hepatitis B is found in the blood and body fluids, including semen, vaginal secretions and saliva. It can spread via:  

  • Unsafe sexual activity,  
  • Sharing of needles for drug injection,  
  • Sharing toothbrushes or razors,  
  • Reusing unsterilised or inadequately sterilised equipment to pierce the skin, or  
  • Coming in contact with the infected blood of another person.      

 

Diagnosis  

Hepatitis B is diagnosed via a blood test which looks for markers of the Hepatitis B virus in the blood. It is important to do follow-up tests as it can take up to six months to detect the virus in the blood. Since Hepatitis B damages the liver, Liver Function Tests (LFTs) should be done to assess liver damage.      

 

Symptoms  

Some people with Hepatitis B may not experience any symptoms, and are unaware of their infection. Symptoms may include:  

  • Flu-like symptoms,  
  • Nausea and vomiting,  
  • Jaundice (yellow eyes and skin, dark coloured urine and pale faeces),
  • Abdominal or liver pain (in the upper right side of the abdomen),  
  • Tiredness, and/or  
  • Joint aches and pain.      

 

People with an acute infection may become very sick in a short period of time, especially if the liver is damaged. Those with chronic Hepatitis B are at a greater risk of liver cancer.      

 

Management

Most adults will recover from Hepatitis B, but those who develop a chronic infection should have their liver function monitored via a blood test ever six months. People with liver damage are advised to seek treatment by a specialist.      

 

Disclaimer  

The content displayed on this webpage is intended for informational purposes and is a guide only. It does not replace or substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Information contained on this webpage must be discussed with an appropriate healthcare professional before making any decisions or taking any action based on the content of this webpage.      

 

Sources  

Hepatitis Australia: http://www.hepatitisaustralia.com/about-hep-b/  

Better Health Channel: http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Hepatitis_B_the_facts