About Hepatitis B (Hep B, HBV)
Hepatitis B is a virus that causes both acute and chronic inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis B has an approximate incubation period of 6 weeks to 6 months. An acute infection usually lasts from 2 to 4 months. A chronic (long-term) infection can occur with this virus. Mortality for hepatitis B is moderate to high. Individuals with a compromised immune system are more likely to develop a chronic infection.
Why it is Problematic
In rare instances, a hepatitis B infection can cause acute liver failure and death. Infected children that are at a high risk of developing a chronic infection. Individuals with a chronic hepatitis B infection are at a high risk of developing liver cancer and cirrhosis.
Causes and Risk Factors
Hepatitis B is a blood-borne virus that is 100 times more infectious than the HIV virus. The hepatitis B virus can spread perinatally from mother to child, via unprotected sexual contact with a person with active HBV, through IV drug usage, and unsanitary tattoo and piercing conditions.
Hepatitis B is sometimes symptomless. When symptoms are present, the may include:
- Jaundice (yellowing of skin and whites of the eyes)
- Joint pain
- Abdominal pain
- Dark urine
- Loss of appetite
Call your doctor immediately if you believe you may have been exposed to the hepatitis B virus. An injection with immune globulin may prevent infection if it is given within 24 hours of exposure to the virus. The body's immune system is typically capable of clearing an acute infection. A chronic infection can sometimes be treated with antiviral drugs. Throughout the course of treatment, the patient should be monitored for side effects from treatment.
A vaccine is available to prevent hepatitis B. To help protect yourself from infection, practice safe sex, and avoid illicit drugs and unsanitary conditions.
The CDC estimates that 350 million people worldwide are infected with the hepatitis B virus.