Hepatitis B is a viral infection that primarily affects the liver. It is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV) which can lead to both acute and chronic liver disease. Hepatitis B is a significant global health concern and it is transmitted through contact with infected blood, semen, vaginal fluids or other body fluids.
Hepatitis B can be transmitted through various routes, including unprotected sexual contact, sharing needles or other drug paraphernalia, mother-to-child transmission during childbirth and exposure to contaminated blood or blood products. It is not spread through casual contact like hugging or sharing food and utensils.
Acute and Chronic Infection
Hepatitis B infection can be either acute or chronic. Acute infection is a short-term illness that may cause mild symptoms or go unnoticed. Most adults with acute hepatitis B recover completely and develop immunity against future infections. However, infants and young children are more likely to develop chronic hepatitis B, which can lead to long-term liver complications, including cirrhosis, liver failure or liver cancer.
The symptoms of acute hepatitis B can include fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, clay-coloured stools, joint pain, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes). However, not everyone infected with hepatitis B will develop symptoms, especially in the early stages.
Vaccination is the most effective way to prevent hepatitis B. The hepatitis B vaccine is typically given as a series of three or four shots. It is recommended for all infants, children and adolescents, as well as for adults who are at increased risk of infection, including healthcare workers, individuals with multiple sexual partners, individuals who inject drugs and those with certain medical conditions. Safe sexual practices, avoiding sharing needles or other drug paraphernalia and using sterile medical equipment are also important preventive measures.
There is no specific cure for acute hepatitis B but most cases resolve on their own with supportive care. In chronic hepatitis B cases, antiviral medications may be prescribed to reduce viral replication, slow down liver damage and prevent complications. Regular monitoring and medical management are crucial for individuals with chronic hepatitis B.
The hepatitis B vaccine is a safe and effective way to prevent hepatitis B infection. Here are some important points about the hepatitis B vaccine:
The hepatitis B vaccine is typically given as a series of three doses. The standard schedule for the vaccine involves the first dose at birth or during infancy, followed by the second and third doses at specific intervals. The exact schedule may vary based on the country’s immunisation program or individual circumstances. There are also accelerated schedules available for certain populations, such as adults or individuals at higher risk of exposure.
Who Should Get Vaccinated
The hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for various groups of people, including:
- All infants at birth or during early infancy
- Children and adolescents who were not vaccinated previously
- Healthcare workers and those in occupations with potential exposure to blood or bodily fluids
- Individuals with chronic liver disease, including hepatitis C infection
- Men who have sex with men
- Individuals with multiple sexual partners or a history of sexually transmitted infections
- Injection drug users
- Household contacts of individuals with chronic hepatitis B infection
- Individuals planning to travel to regions with a higher prevalence of hepatitis B
The hepatitis B vaccine is highly effective in preventing hepatitis B infection. It stimulates the body’s immune system to produce protective antibodies against the hepatitis B virus, providing long-term immunity.
In some countries, combination vaccines are available, which provide protection against multiple diseases in a single shot. For example, there is a combination vaccine called Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B combination vaccine which provides protection against both hepatitis A and hepatitis B viruses.
The hepatitis B vaccine is generally safe. Like any vaccine, it can have mild side effects, such as soreness at the injection site or a low-grade fever. Serious side effects are rare.
Completing the Vaccine Series
It is important to complete the full series of hepatitis B vaccine doses to ensure optimal protection against the virus. Missing or delaying doses may compromise the effectiveness of the vaccine.
It’s important to consult with a healthcare provider for guidance on hepatitis B vaccination, testing, and management. Early detection and appropriate medical care can help prevent long-term complications associated with hepatitis B infection.