Hepatitis is a disease of the liver. It is generally an inflammation of the liver caused mainly by viral infection and also by other causes. Although there are different types of hepatitis, this article addresses hepatitis B, its causes and treatment.
Hepatitis B also known as HBV is a disease of the liver caused by the Hepatitis B virus. Hepatitis B becomes chronic hepatitis when the infection lasts more than 6 months. This can cause liver cancer and failure and the patient may require a liver transplant. However, in most cases, hepatitis B disappears after one or two months even without treatment.
The virus can be spread when a person comes in contact with the body fluids of an infected person. This can include contact with the blood, semen, vaginal fluids and saliva. It can also be passed through sexual contact or by sharing of sharp objects like needles, razor blades and can be passed when people share toothbrushes. Pregnant women with hepatitis B are risk factors for their unborn kids. Furthermore, hepatitis B can be passed from one person to another when an infected person gives out blood.
Hepatitis B shows various signs. In children affected at birth or immediately after, the virus enters the liver cells and reproduces slowly and eventually lead to chronic liver damage. They may show no visible symptoms but can still infect others through any of the means mentioned. In adults, the following symptoms are visible and usually appears 25 to 180 days after a person is infected:
•Yellowing of the skin and eyes
•Abdominal pain in the area of the liver
•Loss of appetite
•Rash and itching all over the body
•Joint pain etc
In adults, these symptoms usually disappear by itself after a few months.
The symptoms associated with the virus can be easily treated with medication. In adults, they can easily recover completely. However, for those with chronic cases of Hepatitis B, they are given Interferon alfa-2b (Intron A) injection or Lamivudine (Epivir-HBV) oral medication. This medication serves to reduce the reproductive ability of the virus which can lead to liver damage. In addition, patients with chronic hepatitis B are kept off substances that can harm the liver. These substances include but are not limited to alcohol, herbs, dietary supplements etc. In extreme cases where liver damage has been confirmed, a liver transplant might be necessary.
PREVENTION AND VACCINATION
Children must be vaccinated against Hepatitis B for a period of 6 months. They are given 3 injections. Pregnant women must be tested to rule out or confirm the presence of the virus. For those with the virus, the baby is given a shot of HBIG and the first dose of hepatitis B vaccine. This is done 12 hours after birth. The baby is then given the second dose of the vaccine at one or two months old. The third dose is given at 6 months old. When the baby is about 9 to 15 months, a blood test is carried out to confirm the baby didn't get the virus from the mother.
Hepatitis B is as dangerous as HIV but can be prevented. It is important for pregnant women to take the necessary steps to ensure their baby does not get infected.
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