Hepatitis B is a serious liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Complications from this infection are severe, so understanding how it is spread and utilizing preventative measures can mean the difference between a healthy life and a crippling illness. Here is everything you’ll need to know about HBV.
- Transmission: HBV is spread through bodily fluids, most notably through blood; infected mothers can even pass the virus onto their children through childbirth. Sharing needles through drug use and interaction with blood (such as in the medical or criminal justice fields) increases your chances of infection. Accidental needle sticks are also a risk for those in the health care industry. Unprotected sex can cause a number of various sexually transmitted infections, hep B among them.
- Symptoms: Signs that you may be infected include abdominal pain, fever, dark urine, nausea and vomiting, and a yellowing of the skin and eyes called jaundice — this is a sign that your liver is not functioning correctly. Illnesses are always easier to manage the earlier they’re caught, so notify a doctor immediately if you recognize any of these symptoms in yourself.
- Treatment/Outcomes: Many adults fully recover from hepatitis B, even if their symptoms are extremely severe. However, some infections become chronic (lasting for more than 6 months) and do irrevocable damage to the liver. Cirrhosis (a permanent scarring of the liver) is common in these cases, and the risk of liver failure/cancer increases.
- Prevention: Fortunately, there is a vaccine that protects against HBV. Vaccines are extremely delicate and require specific temperatures to avoid inefficacy: the hepatitis B vaccine should be held in a vaccine refrigerator or medical grade refrigerator between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius. It is vital that vaccine refrigerators and laboratory refrigerators be constantly monitored (at least once every morning and evening) to ensure the potency of the vaccine stays active. It is NOT a frozen vaccine, so the use of laboratory freezers and pharmacy freezers for storage is strictly prohibited — they will render the vaccine inactive after just a few minutes of exposure.
Around 1.4 million people suffer from chronic hepatitis B, either because they refused to get their vaccinations or because they were not offered/affordable within their country. Knowledge is power, and we are fortunate enough to live in a prosperous, technologically advanced nation — we benefit from near-constant access to properly maintained vaccines.