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Hepatitis B: Symptoms & what precautions to take

Hepatitis B is a viral form of liver infection that can also become chronic and is transmitted through contact with the blood or other body fluids of an infected person. However, a vaccine is available that protects against infection. Let’s find out the symptoms, forms and how to treat it.

Types of hepatitis

The name hepatitis defines a family of viral infections (including hepatitis A , B and C) that affect the liver: they are diseases caused by three different viruses that have similar symptoms, but different ways of transmission and can act on the liver in a different way.

Hepatitis A appears only as an acute infection and does not become chronic, plus there is a vaccine.

Hepatitis C and  B  can also start as acute infections, but in some people the virus remains in the body, resulting in the development of its chronic disease form, and causes long-term liver problems.

What is hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a serious infection that affects the liver: it is caused by the HBV virus that is transmitted through blood or body fluids. Could be:

  • acute and short-lived
  • chronic and long-lasting

Hepatitis B and C: differences

Hepatitis B and C are one of the most serious forms of viral hepatitis, capable of causing chronic liver damage due to severe complications.

The two infections have very similar modes of transmission and symptoms, however for B there is a vaccine that protects the person and prevents him from contracting the disease in case of risk of contagion. There is no cure for C.

Hepatitis B and C are both transmitted by contact with the blood of those who are infected and therefore also from mother to child. However, B can also be taken through other body fluids such as urine and saliva of the infected person, so sexual intercourse and care work for people are considered to be at risk.

The symptoms are basically the same  (jaundice, loss of appetite, pain in the right side, fatigue, dark urine…) and are often not present.

To avoid contagion, in both cases it is recommended not to have exchanges of personal items with those who are infected, but for B it is also recommended to refrain from sexual intercourse and the vaccine is recommended as a prevention.

Acute hepatitis B

The acute form of this infection lasts less than 6 months : in this case the immune system is able to eliminate the virus from the body autonomously and we recover without permanent damage within six months.

Chronic hepatitis B

The chronic form lasts more than 6 months : in this case the immune system is unable to fight the virus and the infection risks becoming permanent causing serious complications, especially affecting the liver.

Complications of the chronic form

Having a chronic HBV infection can lead to permanent damage such as:

  • Cirrhosis of the liver : extensive scars in the liver tissue that can compromise its main functions
  • Acute liver failure : in this case the liver does not guarantee the vital functions it is equipped with and over time a liver transplant becomes necessary.
  • Liver cancer : Hepatitis B sufferers have a higher risk of having liver cancer.
  • Kidney failure : Hepatitis B infection can also cause kidney problems. The risk is greater in children.
  • Vasculitis : is an inflammation of the blood vessels that can cause other complications
  • Hepatitis D infection . LS only develops in people who already have chronic hepatitis B: if HBV is not present, it is not possible to become infected with the hepatitis D virus. Having both hepatitis B and hepatitis D increases the chances of developing serious damage liver and complications.

Hepatitis B antibodies

The determination of hepatitis B antibodies (anti-HBV antibodies) in the blood is used to determine that there is an infection with the hepatitis B virus.

Different types of antibodies are tested (anti-HBs, anti-HBc, anti-HBe) as well as the HBs antigen and the HBe antigen. All of these markers should be used to assess the stage of the disease.

Hepatitis B transmission: how the virus is contracted

The infection is caused by the HBV virus that enters the liver, invades its cells, and begins to multiply, causing inflammation and symptoms of infection.

The HBV virus is found in the

  • blood
  • semen and vaginal secretions
  • saliva (very low viral load)

The virus can also be transmitted through these body fluids:

  • disastrous
  • nasal secretions and sputum
  • urine
  • He retched
  • peritoneal – synovial – cerebrospinal fluid
  • amniotic fluid

As a result, the fetus of a sick mother can contract the virus, as well as having sexual intercourse or treating an infected person.

Hepatitis B contagion: risk factors

The main risk factors for the transmission of the hepatitis B virus are:

  • unprotected sexual intercourse with multiple partners or with infected partners
  • using injectable drugs ,
  • hang out with infected people
  • work in laboratories where infected blood is present
  • visit places  with high rates of hepatitis B virus infection (the ASL indicates which countries are most affected by the HBV virus),
  • make tattoos or piercings in studios that do not use sterile tools,
  • if contracted during pregnancy , it is easily transmitted to the newborn during childbirth

NON-risk factors

  • breastfeeding
  • hugs and handshakes
  • coughing and sneezing

Hepatitis B incubation

The virus has an average incubation period of 75 days : it often causes no obvious symptoms.

Prevent infection

If you doubt that you have contracted hepatitis B, it is important to contact your doctor immediately or to a nearest ASL center to be able to use every method to decrease the possibility of virus infection and to reduce the contagion.
The treatments that will be administered by medical staff possibly within 48 hours of any exposure to the virus are:

  • 3 doses of vaccine in 3 months, the first immediately and then once a month
  • immunoglobulins , a preparation of antibodies which, by attacking the HBV virus, can offer immediate short-term protection until the vaccine begins to take effect.

How the hepatitis B virus manifests itself

Many people with this infection have few or no symptoms and therefore may not be aware that they have contracted the virus. And unfortunately spread the infection. About 70% of affected adults will show symptoms only 3 months after infection.

In adulthood, most infected people contract and defeat the infection without realizing it. Conversely , children and infants are more likely to develop the chronic form .

Spread of the virus

The virus is able to survive in the environment at least 7 days , during which time it can still cause infection, if it manages to penetrate the defenses of an unvaccinated organism. The WHO estimates that there are 250 million people who are positive for the virus in the world.

Symptoms of hepatitis B

The main symptoms of acute hepatitis B are:

  • tiredness and malaise
  • muscle aches
  • abdominal pain especially in the liver area
  • nausea , vomiting and loss of appetite
  • jaundice
  • itch
  • dark colored urine
  • stools tending to gray

The chronic form becomes symptomatic when the liver is already compromised.

Hepatitis B cure

Once medical checkups and tests for infection have been performed, no treatment may be required.

A healthy, adult body will completely eliminate the infection on its own, without the need for drugs.

If blood tests show signs of chronic hepatitis, your doctor may instead recommend medications to reduce the risk of complications and periodic liver tests.

Medicines

If the infection is acute it does not require special therapy.  Symptoms are expected to subside and good hydration is recommended.

Instead, antiviral treatment is used in patients with a very aggressive course (fulminant hepatitis) or for immunocompromised subjects .

In cases of chronic infection, there are no drugs that can eliminate the infection , but antiviral drugs will be recommended to block viral replication, minimizing liver damage.

Antiviral drugs

There are seven drugs authorized for the treatment of hepatitis B:

  1. Epivir
  2. Viread
  3. Sebivo
  4. Baraclude
  5.  Interferon
  6. Peginterferone

Precautions in case of infection

If you become aware that you have contracted HBV visrus, you must immediately take some precautions not to transmit it. Here are some tips:

  • protect the partner from hepatitis B infection by avoiding sexual contact: the use of condoms reduces but does not eliminate the risk of HBV spread
  • do not share personal hygiene items, such as razors or toothbrushes, but also needles or syringes
  • do not donate blood or organs (this is obviously already checked in the right locations)
  • in the case of pregnant women, immediately communicate that you have HBV so that the baby can be treated from birth. Chronic cases can be avoided if the newborn receives the necessary injections at the correct times (immunoglobulins and vaccine).

Hepatitis B vaccine

Infection can be prevented by vaccination . The vaccine usually consists of 3 injections to be given every 6 months. It is administered by intramuscular injection in the deltoid area.

Vaccination is generally well tolerated. A local reaction such as redness, discomfort or swelling or headache, fatigue or fever may appear only rarely, but these are rare reactions and they disappear in 1-3 days.

Who needs to get vaccinated

Babies born to an infected mother must be given the first dose within 12 hours of birth at the same time as injecting specific anti-HBS immunoglobulins into another area of ​​the body.

The second dose will be administered 1n month after the first and the following ones, generally, on the occasion of the hexavalent vaccination, following the normal vaccination schedule.

It is a vaccine consisting of a component of the virus that can also be administered to pregnant women and to people with immunosuppression. The vaccine is free for everyone : it is administered at vaccination centers throughout Italy, but it can also be purchased in pharmacies.

Who can not get vaccinated

It must not be administered to individuals with known hypersensitivity to the components of the vaccine or to individuals who have exhibited signs of hypersensitivity following previous administration.

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