Hepatitis: The silent killer

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Screening healthy people for hepatitis B is important because the virus can damage the liver before causing signs and symptoms.

Hepatitis B is a serious liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus.

For some people, hepatitis B infection becomes chronic, meaning it lasts more than six months, which increases your risk of developing liver failure, liver cancer or cirrhosis (a condition that causes permanent scarring of the liver), and even kidney disease, inflammation of blood vessels and anaemia.

Usually, in adults, the disease can be fully overcome. However, in children, they are more likely to develop a chronic hepatitis B infection.

You can get a vaccine to prevent hepatitis B, but once you have it there’s no cure. The disease can easily be spread, so if you are infected, taking certain precautions can prevent spreading.

If you know you have been exposed to hepatitis B, contact your doctor immediately. Preventive treatment may reduce your risk of infection if you receive the treatment within 24 hours of exposure to the virus.

If you have been diagnosed, the following suggestions might help: Learn about the disease; take care of yourself by eating a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables; exercise regularly, and get enough sleep.

Take care of your liver. Don’t drink alcohol. Don’t take prescription or over-the-counter drugs without consulting your doctor.

Get tested for hepatitis A and C. Get vaccinated for hepatitis A if you haven’t been exposed.

Signs and symptoms

The signs and symptoms of hepatitis B can be mild to severe, and usually, appear one to four months after infection:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine
  • Fever
  • Joint pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)

Causes

The Hepatitis B virus (HBV), is passed from person to person through blood, semen or other body fluids. These include:

 Sexual contact. You may become infected if you have unprotected sex with an infected partner whose blood, saliva, semen or vaginal secretions enter you.

• Sharing of needles. HBV is easily transmitted through needles and syringes contaminated with infected blood. Sharing intravenous (IV) drug paraphernalia puts you at high risk of hepatitis B.

• Accidental needle pricks.

• Mother to child transmission. Pregnant women infected with HBV can pass the virus to their babies during childbirth.

Signs and symptoms

The signs and symptoms of hepatitis B can be mild to severe, and usually, appear one to four months after infection:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine
  • Fever
  • Joint pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)

Causes

The Hepatitis B virus (HBV), is passed from person to person through blood, semen or other body fluids. These include:

 Sexual contact. You may become infected if you have unprotected sex with an infected partner whose blood, saliva, semen or vaginal secretions enter you.

• Sharing of needles. HBV is easily transmitted through needles and syringes contaminated with infected blood. Sharing intravenous (IV) drug paraphernalia puts you at high risk of hepatitis B.

• Accidental needle pricks.

• Mother to child transmission. Pregnant women infected with HBV can pass the virus to their babies during childbirth.

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