Hepatitis is the inflammation (complex biological responses of body tissues to harmful stimuli such as bacteria and viruses) of the liver tissues. Hepatitis may be temporary which is referred to as acute hepatitis or long term called chronic hepatitis. Acute hepatitis can often resolve on its own or, in worst case scenarios, progress to chronic hepatitis. The disease is most commonly caused by viruses. There are five main types of viral infections, namely, types A, B, C, D and E. In this article I’ll be elaborating on hepatitis b.
To start with, let’s talk about the liver. What does it do exactly you might wonder, well, here you go! The liver is a large organ in the body that is responsible for digesting, absorbing, and processing the food and also for filtering toxins-including alcohol- and metabolizes drugs.
Hepatitis B is known as a ‘blood-borne virus’ (BBV) and can be spread by blood to blood contact. However, it is also present in other body fluids such as semen, breast milk etc, which can also be a source of infection. Even a tiny amount of blood from someone who has the virus can pass on the infection if it gets into your bloodstream, through an open wound, a cut or scratch, or from a contaminated needle. Hepatitis B is very infectious. The virus is able to survive outside the body for at least a week which means objects and surfaces contaminated with dried blood also can pose a risk. Hepatitis B isn’t spread by kissing, hugging, coughing, sneezing, or sharing utensils.
In most cases, hepatitis B causes limited infection, meaning that is only affects the liver directly. Usually people manage to fight off the infection successfully within a few months, developing an immunity that lasts a lifetime (this means you won’t get the infection again), but you can still be infected with the other types of hepatitis. However, some people don’t get rid of the infection. If you are infected with hepatitis B for more than six months, you are considered a carrier, even if you have no symptoms. This means that you can transmit the disease to others by the means explained above. Being a carrier also means that your liver may be more prone to injury. For unknown reasons, the infection eventually goes away in a very small percentage of carriers. For others, the infection becomes chronic.
Chronic hepatitis is an ongoing infection of the liver that can lead to cirrhosis. Cirrhosis causes liver tissue to scar and stop working. If you have chronic hepatitis B, you may need treatment to try and slow down the replication of the virus however, treatment cannot ‘cure’ hepatitis. A small number of carriers go on to get liver disease and may need liver transplant.
As daunting as all this might sound, there is actually a solution. Our awesome scientists have developed a vaccine to prevent the hepatitis b infection. The vaccine works by causing your body to produce its own protection (antibodies) against the disease and thus developing immunity without encountering the real virus. Awesome! I know.
Our doctors and researchers are doing their best to provide more solutions to this disease. But as individuals of society, we owe it to ourselves and others to prevent the virus from spreading. Taking precautions like the vaccine, having protected sex, not sharing needles etc will help greatly in addition to all the work our health practitioners are doing. Hopefully we all try and follow this advice!