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Viral Hepatitis

Hepatitis B, Causes & Risk Factors, Treatment, Prevention

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Original Date of Publication: 01 Aug 2001
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Home » Viral Hepatitis » Hepatitis B, Causes & Risk Factors, Treatment, Prevention

Hepatitis B

The virus that causes hepatitis B (HBV) is transmitted through blood, bodily fluids containing blood, semen, and vaginal fluid. Chronic HBV occurs in about 10% of people with the disease and can last for several months or even years. It may cause cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver failure, and liver cancer. People infected with HIV have a greater chance of developing chronic hepatitis B.

Causes and Risk Factors
The following are common modes of hepatitis B transmission:

  • Contaminated drug, tattoo, and piercing needles
  • Mother-to-fetus
  • Sexual contact with an infected person

Signs and Symptoms
Many of the signs and symptoms of HBV are similar to hepatitis A, with some distinguishing signs:

  • Jaundice
  • Joint and body pain
  • Rash

The incubation period of HBV can be several weeks to several months and many people experience the first symptoms 6 months after infection.

Diagnosis is the same as for other types of hepatitis, but the blood test reveals the HBV antigen.

Drug therapy for HBV consists of interferon alfa-2b and, recently, lamivudine, two antiviral agents given intramuscularly that stop the virus from reproducing and support the immune system. Lamivudine is also a first-line treatment for HIV. If given within 2 weeks of exposure, immune globulin (IG) may be effective in 75% to 95% of people who are not vaccinated. Side effects include flu-like symptoms.

HBV prevention includes safer sex; avoiding used drug, tattoo, and piercing needles; and hepatitis B vaccination. The vaccination consists of the initial dose, another at 1 month, and the final one at 6 months. There are currently no recommendations for booster shots for this vaccine.

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