Hepatitis B is a serious infection that can cause long-term damage to the liver. Most healthy people who develop an acute infection will recover within six months with rest, fluids and a healthy diet. In some cases, the infection becomes chronic and requires long-term treatments, and may even require a liver transplant. The best way to avoid contracting the virus is to obtain the vaccine and avoid risky behaviors.
Hepatitis B is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV), which can cause an acute (short-lived) or chronic (long-lasting) liver infection. The virus is passed from an infected person through blood, semen or other body fluids. It is not passed through coughing or sneezing. An acute case of hepatitis B infection will go away on its own, while having a chronic case of hepatitis B increases your risk for liver failure, liver cancer or cirrhosis of the liver later in your life.
There is no cure for a hepatitis B infection. A vaccine to prevent infection is available, but many people do not request the vaccination, especially if they believe they are not at risk for contracting the disease. It is wise to be screened for hepatitis B infection, since symptoms may not appear until the virus has damaged your liver. Check with your doctor about a screening for the disease, which involves a blood test.
Once infected, symptoms may appear within one to four months. Early signs and symptoms include:
Once the liver is damaged, an infected person will need to receive ongoing treatment. Your doctor may prescribe antiviral medications or interferon injections. In severe cases, a liver transplant may be required.
If you believe you have been exposed to hepatitis B, contact your doctor right away, as there is a preventative treatment that could reduce your risk of infection if given within 12 hours. If you experience any signs of the infection, contact your doctor immediately.
If you have an acute case of hepatitis B, it should go away on its own within six months. This will require rest, good nutrition and lots of fluids. It is possible, however, that an acute infection could develop into a chronic condition if your immune system is unable to fight off the virus.
In the case of a chronic infection, it would be helpful to have medical alerts available to you. The long-term effects of a hepatitis B infection could include the possibility of liver failure or liver cancer. In this circumstance, the ability to contact help quickly would provide peace of mind to you and your family.
Once diagnosed with a chronic case of hepatitis B, you will need to be conscious of how your body is dealing with the disease.
Hepatitis B is transmitted through blood, semen and other bodily fluids. People most at risk are those who share needles or have unprotected sex. Healthcare workers and people who live with someone who has a chronic infection are also at risk. In addition, if you plan to travel to areas where hepatitis B is common, check with your doctor about getting the vaccine.
Even if you are not planning to travel to a high-risk area, consider checking with your doctor about the vaccine anyway, just to be safe. About 10 percent of those who are diagnosed in the U.S. don’t know how they contracted the infection.
Although hepatitis B is a dangerous infection, people who have an acute infection should recover within a few months. A person with a chronic infection will have more long-term problems that include the liver, such as liver cancer, cirrhosis and liver failure. In this case, the use of medical alerts would be recommended for peace of mind.