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Health Feature: Hepatitis B
Published on February 25, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Vignesh Resalraj and Bhavani Padamati
Students at the American International Medical University, Saint Lucia

GROS ISLET, St Lucia -- Hepatitis B is a virus that affects the liver. It is very common in many parts of the world. Many people with hepatitis B don’t realize they have been infected until they have a blood test for it.

Why should we know about hepatitis B?

It is a global public health problem. About one third of world’s populations are suffering from HBV infection. It is the major cause of liver diseases including chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis and hcc (hepatocellular carcinoma).Most importantly, it is contagious.

What does hepatitis B do?

First, the hep B virus gets into the liver and in some cases causes liver problems. These problems range from mild to life threatening.

When a person first becomes infected, they might develop symptoms including fatigue, fever, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, bloating, indigestion, headaches, itching and joint or muscle pain. In severe cases, there can be a yellowing of the skin and eyes known as “jaundice”. However, many people don’t notice any symptoms at all and don’t know they have recently been infected.

Not all victims of hep B develop liver disease. The first six month of hep B infection is known as acute infection. Most adults will be able to fight off the acute phase. This means they will get complete cure without any long term liver problems. Once they are cured from it they are immune to hep B virus and they cannot pass it to any others. So it shows hep B is one time visitor to our body.

Some people, mainly children, are unable to fight off the virus within six months. This means that they develop long term infection or chronic hepatitis. They have hep B virus for life and can pass it on to others. They remain as a carrier of hep B virus.

People with chronic (long term) infection are at risk of liver problems. Chronic hepatitis B can also cause liver cancer. It is one of the major causes of cancer worldwide, and causes 80% of liver cancers. Liver problems caused by hep B include liver scarring, known as fibrosis (mild) and cirrhosis (severe).

How is it transmitted?

The mode of transmission of hep B is somewhat similar to the mode of transmission of HIV (AIDS) .But hep B is much easily transmittable than HIV. Hepatitis B is spread when infected blood or other body fluids enter another person’s bloodstream. Hep B can also be spread via unprotected sex, use of unsterile injecting equipment, and from mother to baby during childbirth. Most cases of chronic hepatitis B occur at birth or in early childhood.

Hep B can also be spread through sharp personal grooming items such as razors, toothbrushes or earrings. Traces of blood on these items can carry the virus. Unsterile body piercing, tattooing and acupuncture are also possible routes of infection. Other non casual ways of spreading includes through sneezing, coughing, hugging or eating food prepared by someone who has hepatitis B.

How many people have hepatitis B?

Over 350 million people globally have chronic hepatitis B. Saint Lucia has an intermediate prevalence of hepatitis B. Globally, an estimated 600,000 persons die each year due to the acute or chronic consequences of hepatitis B infection. Areas with the highest prevalence rates of chronic hepatitis B include south East Asia, Africa, the middle and Far East, and southern and eastern Europe. In the UK, the prevalence of chronic hepatitis B infection is estimated to be 0.3% (approximately 180,000 people).

Is there a treatment for chronic hepatitis B?

Finally, this is the question that everyone raises in their mind when we speak about a particular disease. What about the treatment of the disease? Is there any treatment for this disease? Treatment is available but is not needed for all people with chronic hepatitis B. The aim of the treatment is to control the hepatitis B virus, and to prevent significant liver damage. It does this by reducing the amount of virus in the liver so that damage is minimized. The key is to start treatment at the right time, when the virus is entering into an active phase. This greatly improves the chances of maintaining a healthier liver and preventing the development of cirrhosis or liver cancer.

The MOST important thing for people with chronic hep B is regular long term monitoring with a healthcare provider who has expertise in this field. Recent research indicates that the virus goes through phases of activity and inactivity, so it’s really important to monitor these changes with blood tests every 6 months. These tests will help us to identify whether any treatment is needed or not.

Lifestyle changes to overcome hepatitis B

Lifestyle recommendations include avoiding alcohol, avoiding smoking, eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of rest and regular exercise will also help. Minimizing stress is recommended because the liver is directly affected by the chemicals released in the body when a person is stressed.

“Prevention is better than cure.”

Vaccination for hepatitis B

Vaccination for hep B virus is widely available worldwide.

In Saint Lucia, the government has not established a goal of eliminating hepatitis B. It is not known what percentage of newborn infants nationally in a given recent year received the first dose of hepatitis B vaccine within 24 hours of birth or what percentage of one-year-olds (ages 12–23 months) in a given recent year received three doses of hepatitis B vaccine.

There is no national policy that specifically targets mother-to-child transmission of hepatitis B. There is no specific national strategy and or policy/guidelines for preventing hepatitis B and hepatitis C infection in healthcare settings. The government does not have national policies relating to screening and referral to care for hepatitis B or hepatitis C.

People testing for hepatitis B register by name; the names are kept confidential within the system. Hepatitis B tests are not free of charge for all individuals, but they are free of charge for blood donors and pregnant women. Hepatitis B tests are compulsory for pregnant women. Publicly funded treatment is not available for hepatitis B. The following drugs for treating hepatitis B are on the national essential medicines list or subsidized by the government: lamivudine and tenofovir.

Theme of the article

The main theme of this article is to bring hepatitis B awareness among people. Nowadays, this disease has been progressing in our country. So every single citizen reading this article should make sure that they are vaccinated or they will be vaccinated for hep B soon and also help at least ten people to get vaccinated for this disease. Let us make our country healthier. Let this be our Independence Day resolution. Let us put our hands together to get independent from hepatitis B.
 
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