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ID Care: Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a virus that infects the liver which can cause a chronic infection that could lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Chronic hepatitis B infection affects 350 million people worldwide and 1.2 million people in the U.S. Hepatitis B is not passed casually. Most cases in the world occur as a result of transmission from mother to child during pregnancy. Although a global problem, it is most commonly seen in people from Asia and Southeast Asia. Sexual transmission and transmission among intravenous drug users other the other common routes of transmission. Blood transfusion is no longer a risk for getting hepatitis B since donated blood is tested for the virus.

The initial infection with the virus, the acute phase, is asymptomatic for about one third of the people. Symptoms of acute hepatitis in others occurs within one to six months of contracting the virus and can include fever, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, belly pain, light-colored stool and yellowing of skin and eyes. A small number of them can develop liver failure which can lead to death.

Chronic infection occurs less than six months after acute infection. Infants and children who become infected are most likely to develop chronic infection. Less than 5% of infected adults develop chronic infection. About a third of the chronic infected people develop cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) which can lead to cancer and liver failure. Persons who are chronically infected can develop sudden liver failure should they unknowingly receive medical treatments that suppress the immune system such as for cancer or rheumatoid arthritis. Well tolerated, simple treatment is available that can reduce the chances for these complication. This is why it is important to check if you have this infection.

There is a preventive treatment if you think you have been exposed to the virus.

You should get to a doctor right away in order to receive a shot of hepatitis B immune globulin and hepatitis B Vaccine that will help your body’s own immune system to fight off the infection. Prior to exposure a very effective vaccine will protect the vast majority of people for getting Hepatitis B. This vaccine has contributed to a 96% decline in the incidence of hepatitis B infection. It is currently recommended in all newborn babies. It is also recommended to anyone who has multiple sex partners or men having sex with men, someone who is in close contact with an infected person; health care workers or people who work in day care centers, schools or prison and people travelling overseas.

Additional protections that persons with hepatitis B should use to keep the liver safe included vaccination for Hepatitis A and eliminating alcohol intake. Alcohol acts as a co-factor for the hepatitis B Virus and can accelerate the damage of the liver. Finally influenza and pneumonia vaccine maybe appropriate for certain patients with hepatitis B to protect from these serious infection.

Dr. Jerry Sheen is a partner in the Hillsborough-based ID CARE. Call 908-281-0221 or visit www.idcare.com

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