Hepatitis B is a serious disease caused by a virus that attacks the liver, the Hepatitis B Virus(HBV). It can cause lifelong infection, cirrhosis(scarring) of the liver, liver cancer, liver failure, and death. The most common serious liver infection in the world, hepatitis B is more infectious than AIDS because it is very easily transmitted by blood with a single virus particle being able to cause the disease. It is transmitted through infected blood and other body fluids like seminal fluid, vaginal secretions, breast milk, tears, saliva and open sores, unprotected sexual intercourse and illicit drug use. The other common mode of transmission is from Hepatitis B infected mothers to the foetus prior to birth. Persons at risk for HBV infection might also be at risk for infection with hepatitis C virus(HCV) or HIV.

Who is at risk of contracting HBV?

People who are exposed to blood or body fluids of an infected person are at risk including: first aid and emergency workers funeral directors police constables dentists and dental assistants other medical personnel. In addition, those at risk include: persons with multiple sex partners intravenous drug users who share needles and syringes infants / children of immigrants from areas with high rates of HBV infection Hemo - dialysis patients People living in the same household with an infected person. People who work or are incarcerated in a prison. Travelling to countries with a high incidence of Hepatitis B. People who get tattoos made or have their ear or body pierced.

Symptoms

Once infected with the Hepatitis B Virus, approximately 10% of the people develop a chronic permanent infection. It is very common in Asia, China, Philippines, Africa and the Middle East. The overall incidence of reported Hepatitis B is 2 per 10,000 individuals, but the true incidence may be higher, because many cases do not cause symptoms and go undiagnosed and unreported. About 30% of persons have no signs or symptoms and only a blood test can tell for sure. Signs and symptoms are less common in children than adults.

Symptoms can include:

Pain in the joints Weakness and fatigue Aundice Dark coloured urine Stools are clay coloured. Fever Generalised itching Loss of appetite Nausea and vomiting Indigestion and abdominal pain Tenderness and enlargement of the liver

Hepatitis B Prevention

There is no cure for people who have Hepatitis B. There are medications available to treat long-lasting (chronic) HBV-infection. These only work for certain people. The long-term effect of Hepatitis B without vaccination results in chronic infection occurring in: 90% of infants infected at birth 30% of children infected between the age of 1 to 5 years 6% of persons infected after the age of 5 Death from chronic liver disease occurs in: 15-25% of chronically infected persons That is why prevention is so important. Hepatitis B vaccine is the best protection against HBV. Hepatitis B vaccine is available for all age groups to prevent Hepatitis B virus infection. Three doses are commonly needed for complete protection. Please contact your GP for further information.