You've Got What? Hepatitis B
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Hepatitis B (also called hep B) is a virus that is found in blood and other body fluids including vaginal fluid, semen and breast milk. It is highly infectious and causes inflammation of the liver. Most adults, but not all, who become infected with hepatitis B are able to clear the virus without any problems. However most babies and young children infected with hepatitis B are unable to clear the virus and will develop a chronic hepatitis infection.
Hepatitis B is one of the most common infectious diseases in the world and is a serious public health concern. Hepatitis B is a vaccine preventable illness.
There are around 165 000 people living with hepatitis B in Australia. The majority belong to one or more of the following groups:
Hepatitis B is most commonly spread by:
There is also a chance that it can be spread through:
You cannot get hepatitis B from:
Symptoms can take up to 6 months to appear, and are likely to make you sick for between 1 and 3 months. If you do get symptoms, these are the most common:
If someone has hepatitis B for less than 6 months it is called an acute infection. Most people who get hepatitis B as adults will only have an acute infection and recover from it. If you have acute hepatitis B, you might not experience any symptoms.
The older a person is when they become infected with hepatitis B, the better their chances of successfully fighting it off (‘clearing’ the virus). Around 95% of adults who contract hepatitis B will go on to have an acute infection and are then clear it naturally. On the other hand, up to 90% of babies and 30% of children who become infected will go on to have chronic hepatitis B.
If the infection lasts for longer than 6 months it is called chronic hepatitis B. Most people with chronic hepatitis B contracted it as babies or young children. Many people with chronic hepatitis B have no symptoms, but if they appear they are similar to the symptoms of acute hepatitis B. Chronic hepatitis B is a lifelong illness.
Chronic hepatitis B it is a lifelong illness. Each person’s experience of the illness will be different, and will depend on a number of factors like what stage his or her hepatitis B is currently in, lifestyle factors, and how long he or she has the virus.
However we do know that 20 to 30% of people with chronic hepatitis B will develop advanced liver disease if the virus is left untreated. Advanced liver disease can lead to complications including liver failure and liver cancer, and unfortunately, can lead to death. Treatment for hepatitis B aims to avoid these outcomes.
Treatment aims to stop or slow as much as possible, the increase in numbers of hepatitis B viruses. This decreases the risk of serious liver disease developing later in life and makes it possible for the liver to repair some of the damage and to work better.
Yes. Many people with acute hepatitis B have no symptoms and may not even know they have hepatitis B.
Hepatitis B virus can survive outside the body for at least 7 days. During that time, the virus can still cause infection if it enters the body of a person who is not infected.
You should see your GP or local health centre as soon as possible to discuss your options. You will need to have a blood test and in some cases you may start treatment immediately to stop your body becoming infected with Hepatitis B. Management may include hepatitis B immunoglobulin, an injection of plasma which contains high levels of antibodies to help prevent hepatitis B infection from developing in a person who has been exposed.
If your body has naturally cleared the hepatitis B virus, then you will be immune. This means you cannot get hepatitis B again.
All of the tests used to diagnose hepatitis B are blood tests. Some indicate different stages of the illness or immunity. The following list shows the different tests available, and what a positive result indicates for each of them.