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Hepatitis B


Overview :

Commonly called "serum hepatitis," hepatitis B ranges from mild to severe. Some people who are infected by HBV develop no symptoms and are totally unaware of the fact, but they may carry HBV in their blood and pass the infection on to others. In its chronic form, HBV infection may destroy the liver through a scarring process, called cirrhosis, or it may lead to cancer of the liver.

When a person is infected by HBV, the virus enters the bloodstream and body fluids, and is able to pass through tiny breaks in the skin, mouth, or the male or female genital area. There are several ways of getting the infection:

  • During birth, a mother with hepatitis B may pass HBV on to her infant.
  • Contact with infected blood is a common means of transmitting hepatitis B. One way this may happen is by being stuck with a needle. Both health care workers and those who inject drugs into their veins are at risk in this way.
  • Having sex with a person infected by HBV is an important risk factor (especially anal sex).

Although there are many ways of passing on HBV, the virus actually is not very easily transmitted. There is no need to worry that casual contact, such as shaking hands, will expose one to hepatitis B. There is no reason not to share a workplace or even a restroom with an infected person.

More than 300 million persons throughout the world are infected by HBV. While most who become chronic carriers of the virus live in Asia and Africa, there are no fewer than 1.5 million carriers in the United States. Because carriers represent a constant threat of transmitting the infection, the risk of hepatitis B is always highest where there are many carriers. Such areas are said to be endemic for hepatitis B. When infants or young children living in an endemic area are infected, their chance of becoming a chronic hepatitis B carrier is at least 90%. This probably is because their bodies are not able to make the substances (antibodies) that destroy the virus. In contrast, no more than 5% of infected teenagers and adults develop chronic infection.




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