Chronic hepatitis B affects the liver and is caused by hepatitis B virus. It is the most serious type of viral hepatitis infection and is 50 to 100 times more infectious than HIV. Approximately 350 million people worldwide have chronic hepatitis B.
Acute versus chronic
Acute hepatitis B is short-term and some people are able to fight the infection and clear the virus. If the virus remains after six months, it can lead to a lifetime of chronic infection. Over a long period of time, this can lead to serious liver problems, including liver damage, cirrhosis, liver failure, and even liver cancer. About 25 per cent of adults who become chronically during childhood die from hepatitis B-related liver cancer or cirrhosis.
The hepatitis B virus can be transmitted through blood or other body fluids such as semen, vaginal fluid and saliva. This can happen during sexual intercourse, sharing needles, syringes, or other injection drug equipment; or from direct contact with the blood or open sores of an infected person. The virus can also be transmitted from mother to infant during childbirth.
The hepatitis B virus can be prevented through vaccination. The hepatitis B vaccine is given as a series of 3 shots over a period of 6 months. The entire series is needed for long-term protection. Booster doses are not currently recommended.
Symptoms can take up to 30 years to develop and damage to the liver can silently occur during this time. Most people with chronic hepatitis B were infected with the virus at birth or during early childhood, leading to a lifelong chronic infection. Many infected people do not experience symptoms and are unaware that they carry the hepatitis B virus. As a result, many can unknowingly spread the virus to others.
When symptoms do appear, they often are a sign of advanced liver disease and can include fever, fatigue, abdominal pain, and jaundice.
Diagnosis and treatment
Diagnosis for hepatitis B virus is typically done by a blood test. As most people infected do not show any symptoms, testing is the best way to determine whether or not a person is infected with the virus.
Acute hepatitis B virus patients are recommended to rest, have adequate nutrition, fluid and close medical monitoring. For chronic hepatitis B virus infections, treatment options include antiviral medication. If the liver is badly damaged, a liver transplant may be required.