Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is an infection which can be transmitted sexually and is actually thought to be around one hundred times more infectious than HIV. It directly attacks the liver causing some complications which can be chronic or in some instances, life threatening. However in many instances, the infected person may not realise they are carrying the bacteria as symptoms do not always emerge.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms will usually take two to six months to emerge in what is formally known as the incubation period. These early symptoms include loss of appetite, stomach pains, muscle and joint aches, fever and some nausea. This can then develop into a yellow discolouration of the mucus membrane, skin and whites of the eyes known more commonly as jaundice. This is also a cause of some skin irritation. In addition to this, stools may become lighter in colour with urine much darker with some diarrhoea occurring.

What can Hepatitis B lead to?

The younger a sufferer is, the more likely it is that he will contract the chronic variant of the infection. This version is symptomless for two thirds of suffers, who instead act as carriers of the illness for any sexual partner them may have. Around one in twenty hepatitis B sufferer contract the chronic form of the infection where the effects are felt. Symptoms are a relatively mild version of the normal experienced, with some additional pressure felt around the enlarged kidney region. However, around one in four chronic sufferers will die of liver disease. Hepatitis B sufferers are at risk to liver disorders like cirrhosis. This can occur up to fifteen year after the initial symptoms and is a disorder whereby the liver creates scar tissue around the organ. This damages the structure of the organ and in turn the function of the liver leading to total failure and in many cases death. Around 30% of all cirrhosis sufferers survive longer than five years. In other instances, Hepatitis B has been linked to some forms of liver cancer. However, it’s important to note that around one in three hundred actually develop liver failure as a result of the Hepatitis B infection.

How is it diagnosed?

Doctors are able to diagnose the disorder by taking an initial blood sample. From this sample they will look for the presence of anti bodies there to fight the spread of the virus. Further tests may take place to assess liver function. Blood will also be analyzed to assess the levels of protein and enzymes in the blood, if they are at a raised level a biopsy of the liver may be required to examine the cells further.

How can I treat this?

While there is no definitive cure, a number of medicines can be applied depending on circumstances. Around one third of all sufferers can be effectively treated with interferon Alfa injections. These help the disease by reducing the amount of damage done to the liver. Injections are required three times a week for six months and in many cases the doctor may teach you to self medicate. The drug has flu like side effects and regular check ups with a doctor are required in order to monitor these. Another drug, Lamivudine or Zeffix is also helpful. Essentially an oral solution, it too blocks the action of the viral DNA polymerase compound enzyme which thus reduces liver damage through reduction of the virus. For children and uninfected partners the Engerix B or HBvaxPRO offer a vaccine solution to avoiding the infection. Three injections are required one initial one followed by a month’s break and then the final injection some six months down the line. There is also a treatment for autoimmune hepatitis, the form where the body does damage to the internal organ. This can be treated with steroid medication reducing the inflammation that causes the potentially fatal cirrhosis. In all instances of liver problems, alcohol should be avoided and a good balanced diet is strongly recommended. In the more severe cases of Hepatitis B, a liver transplant may also need to be looked at.

Where can I go?

A doctor or Genito-Urinary Medicine Clinic should be consulted in an instance of hepatitis B. Because of the severe nature of the infection, they should be consulted as soon as possible. If there are no specific Genito-Urinary Medicine clinics that come to mind, please contact a local hospital and they will refer you to the correct source.

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