Hepatitis B is a viral infection that causes chronic liver damage and infects approximately 300,000 people every year.
WHAT IS IT?
A serious health concern since the 1960s, Hepatitis B causes liver inflammation and damage. Every year, approximately, 300,000 people are infected with Hepatitis B and almost 5,000 people die.
HOW IS IT TRANSMITTED?
Hepatitis B is transmitted through infected body fluids, including blood, semen, vaginal secretions, and saliva. The most common means of infections are through blood exposure, including sharing equipment for drug use and tattooing or piercing, and via sexual contact, including oral, anal, and vaginal sex. It is also possible for a mother to pass it to her child during pregnancy or delivery.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Most people with Hepatitis B have few or no symptoms. If a person experiences symptoms, they usually occur between one to four months after infection. The most common symptoms include:
o Joint aches
o Abdominal pain
o Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes
o Nausea and vomiting
These symptoms usually last between one and two months and are often confused with the flu. A blood test is done to identify Hepatitis B.
HOW IS IT TREATED?
Those with few or no symptoms usually improve with rest and treatment of symptoms. For those with persistent symptoms, a combination of steroids and alpha-interferon medications can improve liver function and prevent further damage.
HOW CAN I PROTECT MYSELF FROM IT?
A vaccination is available to protect against Hepatitis B. The series of three injections is given over the course of six months. It is also necessary to use condoms during sexual activity if the infection status of partners is unknown.
WHAT ABOUT HEPATITIS A AND C?
Hepatitis A is a virus that causes liver infection and inflammation. Transmission often occurs through ingesting infected fecal material and is sometimes associated with improper food handling. It can also be spread through oral-anal contact during sexual activity. Symptoms are typically flu-like and do not require medical intervention. A blood test is used to test for Hepatitis A and a vaccination is available to help prevent infection.
Hepatitis C is also a virus that causes liver damage and inflammation. It is primarily transmitted through direct contact with infected blood, and there is some evidence that is can be transmitted through sexual contact. Sharing piercing or tattoo needles is also a mode of transmission. About 70% of those infected do not have any symptoms, and those that do tend to have flu-like symptoms. Most who are infected will become “chronic carriers,” meaning they exhibit persistent infection that causes continuing damage to the liver. A blood test is used to identify Hepatitis C and the most common treatment is alpha-interferon medication, although its long-term effectiveness is still being determined. A combined vaccine for both Hepatitis A and C is available.