• February 25th, 2020

Hepatitis B infection

As mentioned last week, we will continue to raise awareness on the five key types of hepatitis infections through the month of July. Today we focus on the Hepatitis B Virus (HBV), as a sequel on Hepatitis A last week.

There is quite a large number of people worldwide who are infected by the HBV, and according to the World Health Organization (WHO) the estimated figure is a staggering 240 million. Hepatitis B is a potentially dangerous liver infection caused by the HBV. While it is a major global health problem, it can also cause chronic infection and puts people at high risk of death from liver cancer.

It is crucial to understand the multiple mechanisms of transmission in order to stay safe and clean from the virus. In areas where the infection rate is high, Hepatitis B is mostly spread from mother to child at birth or exposure to infected blood. Infection is also caused through needle stick injury, tattooing, body piercing and exposure to infected blood and body fluids, such as saliva and, menstrual, vaginal, and seminal fluids.

Sexual transmission may also happen in men who have sex with men and heterosexual persons with multiple sex partners or contact with sex workers. In addition, reuse of needles and syringes among persons who inject drugs may also cause transmission. The growth period of the HBV is about 75 days, but can vary from 30 to 180 days. 

While most people are asymptomatically at the onset of infection, some do experience acute illness that last several weeks. Symptoms include yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), dark urine, extreme tiredness, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. Some people with severe illness can develop acute liver failure, which can lead to death. In some people, the HBV can also cause chronic liver infection that can later develop into scarring of the liver or liver cancer.

Risk factors
Age plays a key role in developing chronic disease. Children are most likely to develop chronic infections (up to 90 percent), while only a small portion of infected adults (five percent) will develop chronic infections.

HIV and HBV infection 
It is possible for people to be infected with both HBV and HIV, which is a potentially life-threatening scenario, and it is crucial that such patients simultaneously be treated with anti-retroviral therapy to enhance their quality of life.

 Diagnosis is somehow complex, and cannot be done on clinical grounds only. A blood test is essential to confirm Hepatitis B. 

There is no specific treatment for acute Hepatitis B, and care is aimed at maintaining comfort with a balanced diet, including replacement of fluids lost from vomiting and diarrhea. Medicine not prescribed by a doctor should be avoided to protect the liver. Chronic Hepatitis B infection can be treated with oral medicines which can slow down the development of liver scarring and cancer and improve long term survival. 

The Hepatitis B vaccine is the mainstay of Hepatitis B prevention. In addition, blood donations should be tested for Hepatitis B to ensure blood safety. All infants in Namibia is routinely immunized against the HBV, in line with WHO recommendations. However, it may be necessary for children and adolescents younger than 18 years who were not vaccinated previously to be vaccinated. In addition, healthcare workers and others who may be exposed to blood and blood products through their work should be immunized as well. Furthermore, safer sex practices, including minimizing the number of partners and using barrier protective measures such as condoms, also protect against transmission.

Staff Reporter
2019-07-15 09:58:30 | 7 months ago

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