Hepatitis B is a condition in which the liver is infected by the hepatitis B virus (HBV), causing it to become inflamed. It is estimated that over two billion people worldwide are infected with this virus, and 350 million people are chronic carriers. In the United States alone, there are over two million people with HBV. If left untreated, hepatitis B can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer, which is why prompt treatment is important. For those not infected with HBV, a vaccination that can prevent the disease is available.
HBV is transmitted through body fluids or secretions. Sexual contact from an infected person is the most common way to become infected, since HBV can be found in semen, vaginal fluid and saliva. Contaminated needles used to take drugs, or to get tattoos or body piercings can also be the source of infection. Unfortunately, many people who become acutely infected with HBV do not know that they have it. Often symptoms are vague and may be confused with other medical conditions. Common symptoms of acute HBV infection include fever, fatigue, flu-like symptoms, loss of appetite, joint pains, nausea, jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes) and pruritis (itching of the skin).
Diagnosis and Treatment
Anyone who believes they may have been infected by HBV should contact a primary care physician immediately and also make an appointment to see a hepatologist for further testing.
Blood tests can help determine chronic or acute infections, viral load (the amount of virus in the blood), and how well the liver is functioning. A liver biopsy can further help to determine whether there is more severe liver damage, especially in patients with chronic hepatitis B. A wide array of treatment options is available to provide the optimum care with minimal side effects.