- The liver
- What does Hepatitis mean?
- How many Hepatitis viruses are there?
- Where is Hepatitis B common?
- How is Hepatitis B passed on?
- What are the symptoms?
- Acute & Chronic Hepatitis B
The liver is your body’s chemical factory performing hundreds of complex functions that are vital for life. It is a very uncomplaining organ and has the ability to carry on its many function with only small portion actually working.
- produces quick energy when needed
- stores sugar, vitamins and mineral including iron
- aids the digestive process by producing of bile
- neutralize certain poisons
- controls the production of cholesterol
- maintains hormone balance
- helps the body resist infection by producing immune factors
- regenerates its own tissue
What does Hepatitis mean?
Hepatitis means your liver becomes inflamed (swollen and tender). The most common cause is being infected with a virus.
An inflamed liver can also be caused by:
- drinking too much alcohol
- the side effects of some medicines and chemicals
- a liver disease called autoimmune hepatitis where the body’s immune system doesn’t work properly and attacks the liver
How many Hepatitis viruses are there?
There are several different hepatitis viruses which affect the liver – the main ones are Hepatitis A, B, C, D and E. The viruses are different from each other in:
- how they are passed from person to person
- the way they causes liver damage
- the effects they can have on health
Hepatitis B, sometimes called Hep B or HBV, is a liver disease caused by Hepatitis B virus. You can prevent illness by having a vaccination that will give you protection from the virus.
Where is Hepatitis B common?
Hepatitis B is common in South East Asia, the Middle and Far East, southern Europe and Africa. The World Health Organization estimates that one third of the world’s population has been infected at some time and that there are approximately 350 million people who are infected long term.
How is Hepatitis B passed on?
The virus is present in body fluids such as blood, saliva, semen and vaginal fluids.
In the U.K, Europe and North America, Hepatitis B is mainly passed from person to person by having unprotected sex.
In Malaysia, the most common way of getting infected is from infected mothers to their children, of from child to child.
A tiny amount of blood from someone who has the virus will pass on the infection if it gets into your bloodstream, e.g. through an open wound, cut or scratch, of from a contaminated needle.
People who use drugs and share any injecting equipment have a high risk of infection.
The virus can also be passed on from medical and dental treatment in countries where equipment is not sterilized properly.
All blood donations in Malaysia are now tested for Hepatitis B, but before testing was introduced it was possible to become infected by receiving blood or blood products from an infected person.
In countries where blood is not tested, blood transfusions may cause of infection.
You can become infected by having unprotected sex (without a condom) with an infected person. Sexually active young adults have a high risk of getting Hepatitis B.
Mother to baby:
Infected mothers can pass the virus to their babies possibly during pregnancy, when giving birth or during breastfeeding. If the mother is infected, the baby is vaccinated and given injections of antibodies called immunoglobulin immediately after birth.
Other body fluids:
The virus may be present in other body fluids such as saliva and vaginal fluid, particularly if it is contaminated with blood, which can pass on the infection.
People who are most at risk of being infected are:
- injecting drug users
- babies born to infected mother
- family members and partners of any infected person
- healthcare workers who have direct contact with blood, e.g. doctors, dentists, nurses and midwives
- people traveling and working in countries where the virus is common
- people who have unprotected sex (without a condom) with people who may be infected
Hepatitis B can be very infectious. Some people pass on the virus more easily than others because they have more of the virus in their bloodstream.
What are the symptoms?
After the virus enter the body, there are no symptoms for 1 to 6 months (known as the incubation period). Many people never have any symptoms. Some people may only have a mild illness and are not ill enough to see a doctor. They may not know they are infected, although they can pass on the virus to others.
A few people develop a serious illness and need to be looked after in hospital.
There may be general symptoms such as tiredness, aches and pain, fever and/or loss of appetite, which may be diagnosed as flu.
There may also be:
- nausea (feeling sick) and sickness
Jaundice is easily noticeable because the white of the eyes go yellow and in more serious cases,
- the skin goes yellow
- urine may turn dark
- bowel motions become pale
Jaundice is caused by too much of a yellow substance called bilirubin building up in the body. Bilirubin is a waste product from the breakdown of red blood cells that the liver normally gets rid of by passing it out in your bowel motions. When the liver is not working properly, bilirubin builds up in your body.
Acute & Chronic Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B can cause an acute or a chronic illness. An acute illness is one that gets better quickly, usually within weeks or at the most, a few months. A chronic illness is one that last a long time, possibly for the rest of your life. Sometimes symptoms come and go.
Acute Hepatitis B
It will take a while to recover from acute Hepatitis B. Most people feel better within a few weeks, although they may feel tired and not have much energy for many months.
Other people may recover without ever realizing they have been infected. For few people who develop severe Hepatitis B, a liver transplant can save their life.
Chronic Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B is called chronic when infection lasts longer than 6 months. A few people have the virus in their body for a long time, sometimes for life, without experiencing any symptoms. The are known as carriers and may not know that they are infected.
Some carriers develop liver disease while others remain healthy. Most carriers are infectious, but some get rid of the virus after several years.
About 25% of carriers develop serious liver disease, including chronic Hepatitis and cirrhosis, and after many years some of them go on to develop primary liver cancer.
To be continued in Part 2:
- What is cirrhosis?
- Effects of cirrhosis
- Hepatitis D
- Blood test, Liver Function Test (LFT) & liver biopsy
- Side effects of treatment
- Protect yourself