Hepatitis B is a serious infection of the liver and the second most common type of hepatitis. Hepatitis B is known as a blood-borne virus because it is passed from one person to another person thru blood or fluids that have blood in it. Hepatitis B has two possible phases: acute and chronic.
Acute means it is a new infection and symptoms usually show up in one to four months. The body’s defense system (immune system) can usually fight the infection and completely recover within a few months. Most people who get acute hepatitis B are adults. About 90-95% of infected adults are able to fight off the virus. Only about 5-10% can’t fight the virus and it become chronic.
Chronic hepatitis B last six months or longer, and the body can’t fight off the infection. Infants and children are much more likely to develop a chronic hepatitis B infection. Most infants and children with hepatitis B never develop signs and symptoms. The same is true for some adults.
A person can contract hepatitis B by having contact with an infected person’s body fluids (blood, saliva, or sexual contact). Some people who are infected may become chronic carriers. They will always have the virus, with no symptoms, and can spread the virus to other people. Hepatitis B may also be passed from a pregnant mother to her newborn child.
Signs and symptoms usually appear about three months after a person becomes infected. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and include:
- Abdominal pain
- Dark pee (urine)
- Pale-colored stool (grayish or clay color)
- Joint pain
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weakness and very tired
- Yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes.
The signs and symptoms of chronic hepatitis B vary widely depending on how bad the liver is damaged and range from few and relatively mild signs to severe (such as cirrhosis or liver failure).
Hepatitis B infection is diagnosed with blood tests. Blood tests are done to check the liver for inflammation. Blood tests alone may not be enough to determine treatment for chronic hepatitis. Other tests may include a CT scan or ultra sound, to detect the extent of liver damage and possible cancer, or a liver biopsy to check for liver damage or to see how well a treatment is working.
Acute hepatitis B infection is not treated with antiviral medications. People with mild symptoms can be cared for at home. Chronic hepatitis may be treated with antiviral therapy. Antiviral medications reduce the ability of the virus to reproduce in the body. They can reduce the damage to the liver but not cure the infection.
Treatment of hepatitis B in children involves getting a lot of rest and stopping normal activities for a period of time. The child needs to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and eat small high-calorie meals. Before giving the child ANY medications, check with the doctor first. It is very important to keep the child’s doctor appointments, because the condition of the liver needs to be monitored. If a child has chronic hepatitis he/she may be treated with medications (such as interferon and other antiviral drugs) because there is still a risk of scarring and liver failure.
Preventive activities to avoid spreading the virus to other include:
- Washing hands thoroughly with soap after using the bathroom and before eating.
- Avoid spreading saliva and bodily fluids to others.
- Avoid sharing food or drinks with others
- Avoid sharing toothbrushes, razors, or needles with others.
- Avoid sexual contact with others.
- Do not donate blood.
Those working or living in environments considered to be at high risk of getting hepatitis B should consider vaccination:
- Healthcare workers
- Volunteers and employees at homeless shelters
- Public safety workers who work with drug abusers
- Sexual partners of people who carry the virus
The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that all children receive the hepatitis B vaccine at birth. Speak with your doctor about the benefits of your child receiving the hepatitis vaccine if not vaccinated as an infant. The vaccine requires a total of 3 shots.