Hepatitis B

hepatitis bThe Hepatitis B virus (HBV) causes a serious liver infection. The infection can become chronic, and in some cases lead to liver failure, liver cancer, cirrhosis (a condition that causes permanent scarring and damage to the liver) or death.

The liver is located on the right side of the abdomen, just below the lower ribs. The liver is primarily responsible for filtering most of the nutrients that are absorbed in the intestines, as well as removing drugs, alcohol and other harmful substances from the bloodstream. The liver also produces bile, a greenish fluid stored in the gallbladder that helps digest fats.
In addition, the liver also produces cholesterol, blood-clotting factors and other proteins.

The liver is able to regenerate or repair up to two-thirds of injured tissue, including hepatocytes, biliary epithelial cells and endothelial cells. Healthy cells take over the function of damaged cells, either indefinitely or until the damage is repaired.

Transmission

The hepatitis B virus is transmitted (More about Hepatitis Transmission) through contact with bodily fluids, such as blood and semen, of someone who is infected.
Even though HBV is transmitted the same way as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS, HBV is nearly 100 times as infectious as HIV.

Individuals of any age, race, nationality, gender or sexual orientation can become infected with HBV. Also, women who have HBV can transmit the infection to their babies during childbirth (Hepatitis and Pregnancy). When the infection is passed from mother to fetus, it is called vertical transmission.

Are you being safe? Read more about Hepatitis Transmission

Risk Factors

Certain individuals have an increased risk of developing the disease. Individuals who are more likely to become infected with HBV are:

  • those who use intravenous (IV) drugs
  • those who have unprotected sex
  • those born in or travel to parts of the world where hepatitis B is prevalent (like sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, the Amazon Basin, the Pacific Islands and the Middle East)

Are you concerned? Read more about Hepatitis B Risk Factors

Most people who become infected as adults recover completely from HBV, even if their symptoms are severe. However, infants and children are more likely to develop chronic, long-term infections.

Treatment

While there is no cure for HBV, the hepatitis B vaccine can prevent the disease.
Hepatitis B vaccination (Hepatitis Treatment Options) is the best way to prevent hepatitis B infection.
A hepatitis B vaccine (Engerix-B®) has been available since 1982. It is administered in a series of three immunizations and provides more than 90% protection for both adults and children.

Are you curious about preventative measures? Read more about the Hepatitis B vaccine

Also, infected individuals can take precautions to help prevent HBV from spreading to others by getting testing for the virus, using protection during sexual contact, and not sharing needles.

Are you at risk? Read more about Hepatitis B Risk Factors

  • According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 1.25 million Americans have chronic hepatitis.
  • About 20-30% of hepatitis patients acquired their infection during childhood. The incidence per year has declined from an average of 260,000 in the 1980s to about 60,000 in 2004. The most significant decline has occurred among children and adolescents as a result of the routine hepatitis B vaccination.

Selected References
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Viral Hepatitis B. www.cdc.gov. Accessed March 29, 2009.
Hepatitis Foundation International. Caring for Your Liver. www.hepfi.org. Accessed March 29, 2009.
National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). Viral Hepatitis: A Through E and Beyond. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov. Accessed March 29, 2009.
Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine. www.naturalstandard.com. Copyright © 2009. Accessed March 29, 2009.
World Health Organization (WHO). Hepatitis B. www.who.int. Accessed March 29, 2009.
The Hepatitis Information Network. www.hepnet.com. Accessed March 29, 2009.