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What is Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). HBV causes the liver to swell and prevents it from working well. Chronic hepatitis B can lead to cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, liver cancer, and liver failure.

Globally, chronic HBV infection affects approximately 350 million people and contributes to an estimated 620,000 deaths each year. Compared to HIV/AIDS it is more common with comparable death rates but it didn’t get a proper attention by the policy makers, NGO’s and lucks proper awareness of the disease in our country.

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Common modes of transmission Unprotected sex, mother to child during birth, unsafe injection practices, contaminated needles and needle sticks.

Symptoms of hepatitis B

Many people with acute or chronic hepatitis B have no symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they may include tiredness, fever, loss of appetite, nausea, headache, muscle soreness, pain near the liver, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes).

Treatment of hepatitis B

In our country it is difficult to get treatment as it is costly and not freely available. There are some efforts to undergo study and to possibly turn the view of policymakers.

Acute hepatitis B

We recommend bed rest, drinking lots of fluids, eating a healthy diet and avoiding alcohol. Medicines are not used to treat acute hepatitis B. Regular follow-up is important to make sure the body has fully recovered of the virus

Chronic hepatitis B

Treatment options for chronic HBV include oral medications such as adefovir dipivoxil, entecavir, interferon alfa 2a, lamivudine, telbivudine, tenofovir, and peginterferon alfa 2a, which is given by injection.

Hepatitis B medications should not be taken by pregnant women unless recommended by their doctors. Some pregnant women with HBV may be treated to prevent transmitting HBV to their babies.

These medicines may need to be taken long-term, and may not work for all people with hepatitis B. People taking these medicines need to be monitored for side effects.

Prevention of hepatitis B to others

  • Hepatitis B vaccination in people who have not been exposed to HBV is the best way to prevent infection. It is give in three shots , the first two doses given one month apart and the final dose given 6 months later.

Other ways to stop the spread of HBV are:

  • Get tested if you are pregnant or want to become pregnant
  • Do not share needles
  • Practice safer sex, Consider vaccinating your partner
  • Do not share razors, toothbrushes, or other personal items
  • Do not donate blood, organs, or tissue
  • Use only clean needles and equipment for tattoos or body piercings
  • Tell your doctors, dentists, and other healthcare providers Can I transmit hepatitis B to my baby? HBV transmission to babies can be prevented through a series of vaccinations and hepatitis B immune globulin that are given at birth. Without vaccination, babies born to women with HBV can develop chronic HBV, which can lead to serious health problems. Can people with chronic hepatitis B continue to work and lead healthy, active lives? People with chronic HBV can continue to work and perform everyday activities. People should not be excluded from work, school, play, child care, or other settings because they have hepatitis B.
  • Be monitored regularly by a healthcare provider
  • Check with a health professional before taking any prescription or over-the-counter medications, vitamins, or supplements
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Eat a healthy diet

About the author

By Dr. Hailemichael Desalegn; internist, Gastroenterologist; Asst. Professor int. Medicine

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