Hepatitis is a disease characterized by
an inflammation (swelling) of the liver. Viral hepatitis B is a
serious disease that results in an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 deaths
each year in the United States due to cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Even though hepatitis B infection is preventable, approximately one
out of twenty people will be infected with the virus some time
during their lives.
Infection with the hepatitis B virus (HBV)
occurs through direct contact with the blood or body fluids of an
infected individual. Persons at risk of hepatitis B infection might
also be at risk for infection with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) or
the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).
HBV can be spread through a cut in the
skin, sexual contact with an infected person, sharing needles for
injection drug use, through needle sticks or sharps exposures on the
job, or from an infected mother to her baby during childbirth.
Because HBV can survive outside the body for at least seven days on
a dry surface, it is further recommended that persons should avoid
sharing toothbrushes and razor blades. Hepatitis B is not spread
through food, water or casual contact with an infected person.
Hepatitis B carriers are people who are
infected with the hepatitis B virus (HBV) and never recover fully
from the infection. They carry the virus and can infect others for
the rest of their lives. In the United States, about 1.3 million
people carry HBV.
A person may have hepatitis B, and
spread the disease, and not know it. Sometimes a person with HBV
infection has no symptoms at all. Only a blood test can verify HBV
infection. Symptoms of hepatitis B infection may include a
yellowing of the skin and/or eyes, loss of appetite, nausea,
vomiting, abdominal pain, fever, fatigue and joint pain.
There is no cure for hepatitis B.
However, there are medications available to treat long-lasting HBV
infection. These medications are not effective in all individuals
suffering from long-lasting hepatitis B infection.
The hepatitis B vaccine has been
available since 1982 and has been instrumental in preventing
hepatitis B disease and its serious consequences. The HBV vaccine
has been shown to be very safe when administered to infants,
children and adults. Therefore, the medical, scientific and public
health communities have endorsed routine vaccination of all
TREATMENT OF HBV
Persons infected with viral hepatitis B
should be evaluated by their doctor for liver disease. Alpha
interferon and lamivudine are two drugs approved by the FDA for the
treatment of chronic hepatitis B. These drugs have proven effective
in about 40 percent of HBV patients. Use of these medications is
not recommended for pregnant women. Several new drugs are currently
being tested for future use.
People with hepatitis B infection should
not engage in any type of drug or alcohol use due to the possibility
of increased liver damage. It is further recommended that those
infected with HBV maintain a healthy lifestyle that includes a well
balanced diet and exercise program.
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