What is Hepatitis B?
Did you know? The word “hepatitis” actually means “inflammation” of the liver.
The Hepatitis B virus, abbreviated HBV, is transmitted through bodily fluids such as blood, vaginal secretions and semen. HBV can be passed to others through direct contact with contaminated blood, unprotected sex, use of contaminated needles, and also can be passed down through childbirth.
Hepatitis B is known as a ‘silent epidemic’ this is because most people do not experience any symptoms. Because of this many people unknowingly spread the virus to others, thus gaining the title ‘silent epidemic’.
For those who are infected but don’t experience symptoms, hepatitis B causes damage to the liver which can develop into cirrhosis, liver cancer or serious liver disease. So basically, hepatitis B can kill you.
How is Hepatitis B Transmitted?
HBV is transmitted through direct contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids. This happens through blood-to-blood contact, unprotected sex, unsterile needles or other medical equipment and it can be passed from mother to baby at birth. For children, the fluid that oozes from open sores is highly infectious, it is important to keep these cuts covered. HBV can be transmitted from sharing different personal items like razors, body jewelry and toothbrushes. Keep in mind, Hepatitis B is not transmitted through sneezing, coughing, shaking hands or hugging.
Hepatitis B and Your Liver
Your liver is an extremely important organ in the body. If the liver fails, your body will too. Look at it like this, if your body was a car, your liver would be the engine. The liver is responsible for hundreds of vital things such as:
- Storing vitamins, sugar and iron which give your body energy
- Controlling production and removal of cholesterol
- Cleaning blood of waste
- Creating clotting factors to stop excessive bleeding after cuts
- Producing immune factors while removing bacteria from the bloodstream
- Releasing bile to help digest important nutrients
About Hepatitis B
HBV is a small DNA virus that comes from the “Hepadnaviridae” family. Other viruses in this family are found in animals such as squirrels, woodchucks, ducks and herons. Since HBV is a silent infection you can live for years before being diagnosed. Children are highly vulnerable to the virus. Often HBV lies undetected until it is caught in a routine blood test or even during a blood donation.
Acute Hepatitis B Infection: Fulminant Hepatitis
Acute HBV infection can be very severe and a small number (about 1 in 100) can develop acute liver failure. If you are having severe vomiting, dehydration or loss of consciousness, seek medical attention immediately.
Chronic Hepatitis B Infection
HBV can cause serious damage to the liver in people with chronic infection. Around 5% of those infected with progress into cirrhosis of the liver. However, 95% of children infected with HBV will develop serious liver damage.
The good news is that HBV is preventable and also treatable. Testing is the only way to know if you are infected with hepatitis B. There is also a vaccine that prevents HBV and drug therapies that can manage a chronic infection. Doctors and labs are working to reach a cure.
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