The hepatitis virus comes in several different forms. Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is a virus that reproduces in the liver and can have drastic effects. It can potentially cause liver diseases, cirrhosis of the liver, inflammation of the liver, liver cancer, and possible liver failure. These conditions can possibly lead to death. Symptoms of HBV infection can range widely, and often infected individuals are unaware that they have the disease for months. Symptoms tend to range from no symptoms at all to brief flu-like symptoms, to jaundice and more serious illnesses. What is interesting about the hepatitis B virus is that it can live outside of the body for 7 or more days in dried blood. This is one of the reasons the virus is spread so easily.
Hepatitis B Symptoms
Most people who are newly infected with hepatitis B do not have any symptoms for quite some time but eventually symptoms include:
Symptoms for hepatitis B may begin as early as 60 days or up to 150 days after exposure to HBV. Some people can have contracted HBV months before the symptoms actually set in and they can still be contagious during this period. Adults and older children who contract the virus are able to recover completely and do not become chronically infected. 90% of infants and 35% of young children (under age 5) will remain chronically ill throughout their life with the HBV virus. There are an estimated 1.2 million Americans who suffer from chronic HBV infection.
Acute HBV infection can last for up to 6 months and be transmittable to others during this period. A blood test can tell whether or not you are still carrying the HBV virus after those 6 months. If you are HBV virus free after 6 months, this is considered an acute infection and your body has built an immunity to the virus. Acute infection can cause mild symptoms or require hospitalization or treatment. For extreme cases of acute HBV infection, individuals must be under the direction of a medical professional as sudden death from liver failure can occur.
With medical and scientific advances there has been development of several effective treatment options for hepatitis B. Drugs such as Adefovir, Tenofovir, and Preveon have shown great success for chronic hepatitis sufferers. The outcome of any patient’s experience with HBV is unpredictable and dynamic. Some may suffer extreme symptoms requiring intensive medical treatment or hospitalization while others will experience little to no symptoms.
Chronic HBV infection is diagnosed when the HBV virus is still present in the blood after the 6-month period. While a chronic HBV infection can be troublesome, with careful considerations, patients can live a long and healthy life with chronic Hepatitis B. There are medical treatments and prescription medications that can help to reverse or prevent further liver damage for those who suffer from chronic Hepatitis.
Professionals who work in fields where they may be exposed to OPIM are at higher risk of contracting hepatitis B Virus (HBV). For many years, the HIV virus was more feared, but we now know that it is the hepatitis Virus that is more likely to be a larger risk. This is a big reason for the hepatitis vaccine that all employees should get. Beyond the Hepatitis vaccine, all employees should be fully immunized for communicable diseases. Some of these immunizations require booster doses and these records should be taken seriously.
Hepatitis B can be prevented in some of the following ways:
- Avoid sharing needles, toothbrushes, or razors
- Practice protected sex (use of a condom)
- Universal protection for health-care and public safety workers
- Vaccines are also available for prevention of hepatitis B infection
Optional Resources for Further Study
- Direct & Indirect Disease Transmission by Delaware Health & Social Services Division of Public Health
- Routes of Transmission by The Oregon Health Authority
- The Ways Infectious Diseases Spread Government of South Australia
- How blood-borne viruses are spread by the Health and Safety Executive in Great Britain