Hepatitis B virus infection is an infection which manifests initially as liver injury (damage) due to the reaction of the human immune system to the presence of hepatitis B virus in the blood circulation. It is a common infection, especially in developing parts of the world.
It is important to know that a healthy person can get infected with hepatitis B virus if he or she has sex with an infected person; receives blood donated by an infected person; shares any sharp object like injection needle (drug addicts) with an infected person.
And the dangerous thing about the virus is that it can persist in the affected person without showing any symptoms of infection while gradually and progressively damaging the liver. This is because the human liver can actually serve its function well even when half of it is damaged. So, hepatitis B virus infection can manifest with symptoms within 1 to 6 months after the person has been exposed to the virus; it can also occur without showing any obvious signs in the affected person.
People infected with hepatitis B virus and who are showing symptoms and signs of the infection will likely complain of some of the following:
- losing appetite
- the feeling of vomiting
- body weakness and muscle ache
- pain at the right upper and middle parts of their abdomen (tummy)
- fever that is not high
- problem with sleeping
- swelling of their abdomen (tummy)
- vomiting of blood
If these people don’t do anything about their condition despite the above symptoms, the problem may worsen with time, months later, and their complaints will progress to:
- -yellowish discoloration of their eyes (this usually occurs around 10 days after the initial symptoms and lasts for 1 to 3 months)
- increase in their breast size to that of a woman (in affected men)
- shrinking of the testes in the scrotum in men
- muscle wasting
- loss of hair in the armpits
These complaints are actually signs that the infection has worsened and is going to cause very serious complications like cirrhosis (severe shrinking of the liver and its ultimate failure) and liver cancer known as hepatocellular carcinoma.
To be safe from hepatitis B virus, the first thing you and every human being should do is to go for screening at any good clinic or hospital near you. The screening test will show whether you have been exposed to the virus or not. If you’re negative, you will be advised to get the hepatitis B vaccine. The vaccine comes in 3 doses: you receive the first dose immediately, the second dose 4 weeks after the first dose and the last dose 4 months after. Pregnant mothers should ensure that their babies receive the complete immunization once they are born before being discharged from the hospital, and they should make sure these babies complete the immunization schedule up to 1 year according to the National Programme on Immunization as the hepatitis B vaccine is part of the immunization.
For those whose hepatitis B screening test is positive, it means that they are infected with the virus. In this case, the hospital will recommend other related tests to clarify whether the infection occurred recently or a long time ago. After this test, further investigations will be done before treatment will be initiated.
Treatment can last for 48 months or be for life, depending on the stage of the disease and the drugs being used, especially for people with worsening signs and symptoms of complications. Also, family members of any person who tests positive to the hepatitis B screening test must be screened for either vaccination or treatment, depending on the result of the test.
If you have not received the hepatitis B vaccine as an adult, please ensure you do so as soon as possible, especially if you work in any capacity in the hospital environment.
For more advice and help, feel free to ask a Doctor via The Reliance Care App