Hepatitis B

Cause and Mode of Transmission

Hepatitis B is an inflammation of the liver caused by the Hepatitis B virus. A person who has acute Hepatitis B or who is a chronic carrier can spread the virus to other people by sexual contact or through blood and other body fluids. Hepatitis B is not spread by water, food or by casual contact that occurs at most schools or workplaces.

 

Symptoms

  • Lethargy
  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Tea-coloured urine
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes
  • Loss of appetite

 

The ‘A-risk’ Category

  • babies born to mothers who are Hepatitis B carriers
  • household members of carriers
  • sexual partners of carriers
  • those in occupations in which there is an increased exposure to blood and body fluids (e.g. health care workers, law enforcement officers, etc.)
  • injection drug users
  • people who come from areas where Hepatitis B is relatively common such as Asia, Equatorial Africa, Southern and Eastern Europe and the Pacific Islands

 

Prevention

Hepatitis B can be prevented by:

  • adopting safe sex practices
  • administering Hepatitis B immune globulin to people who have had recent contact (seven days or less) with infected body fluids
  • active immunisation with a Hepatitis B vaccine. Three injections of this vaccine within a six month period can provide protection against Hepatitis B in majority of people

 

Treatment

Alpha interferon is effective in decreasing viral activity in 35 to 40 per cent of patients treated. Alpha interferon is a natural product of the human body, known to interfere with the reproduction of a virus after it has invaded the body. However, this medication should not be used during pregnancy.

 

Prevention by Vaccination

Hepatitis B is also preventable by vaccine. Three injections of this vaccine within a six-month period provides long-lasting protection against Hepatitis in the majority of people. People most at risk are those whose jobs may expose them to blood or body fluids (i.e. firefighters, health care professionals, law enforcement officers etc.), sexual partners of Hepatitis B carriers and babies born to mothers who are Hepatitis B carriers. Immigrants from countries where Hepatitis B is common (i.e. Asia, Southern and Eastern Europe, Pacific Islands) also carry greater risk.

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