Hepatitis B is a virus that infects the liver.
Most adults who get it, have it for a short time and then get better.
This is called acute hepatitis B.
Note: There are other types like A, C, D and E but B and C can lead to chronicity and are often more fatal.
Sometimes the virus causes a long-term infection called chronic hepatitis B and over time, it can damage your liver.
Babies and young children infected with the virus are more likely to get chronic hepatitis B.
It is good to know that you can have hepatitis B and not know it and you may not have symptoms but if you do, they can make you feel like you have the flu.
It worth’s noting that as long as you have the virus, you can spread it to others.
Few Work Related Observations:
Most of the patients I attended to while working at the clinic at MRC Fajara, in The Gambia were but not limited to those from the provinces and the elderly born before the vaccine trial in 1986 and the implementation (1991) as part of the EPI program and the lessons were;
Lack of vaccination as a result of poor or no antenatal clinic attendance by their mothers resulting to mother to child transmission. Infection at childhood during plays with mates (as in scratching each other). No or limited protection for infected persons. Transfusion with infected blood (not merely provincial but includes the urban). Work related transmission (health workers)
It’s caused by the hepatitis B virus and spread through contact with the blood and body fluids of an infected person.
Note, you may get hepatitis B if you:
– Have sex with an infected person without using a condom.
– Share needles (used for injecting drugs) with an infected person.
– Get a tattoo or piercing with infected tools that weren’t sterilized.
– Share personal items like razors or toothbrushes with an infected person.
Additionally, a mother who has the virus can pass it to her baby during delivery thus making it a recommendation that all pregnant women get tested for hepatitis B during pregnancy.
If you (pregnant woman) have the virus, your baby can get shots (vaccine) to help prevent infection with the virus.
You cannot get hepatitis B from casual contact such as hugging, kissing, sneezing, coughing, or sharing food or drinks.
It is not from groundnuts as thought by many but be sure not to eat infected raw or roasted groundnut and paste. This is because the infection by fungus can produce aflatoxin which can cause chronic liver disease/damage.
It is not cancer but can lead to cancer when chronic.
Being infected doesn’t necessarily mean the end of life.
Many people with hepatitis B don’t know they have it, because they don’t have symptoms but if you do have symptoms, you may just feel like you have the flu with symptoms like:
– Feeling very tired.
– Mild fever.
– Not wanting to eat (loss appetite)
– Feeling sick to your stomach or vomiting.
– Belly/tommy pain.
– Tan-colored bowel movements (stools).
– Dark urine.
– Yellowish eyes and skin (jaundice), this usually appears only after other symptoms have started to go away.
NOTE: Most people with chronic hepatitis B have no symptoms.
A simple blood test can tell your doctor if you have the hepatitis B virus.
Moreover, receiving the vaccine gives lifetime prevention from infection by the virus.
Other diagnostic means:
Liver biopsy is a bedside test carried out when liver damage from hepatitis B is suspected which entails the use of a needle to take a tiny sample of your liver for testing.
The 3 Scenarios:
In most cases, hepatitis B goes away on its own ( when the body develops self immunity against it).
In other cases, it doesn’t disappear but you can live with it without any complications due to the strenght of your immunity in containing it.
In rare cases, it outweighs the strength of your immunity leading to chronicity and complications.
One can relief symptoms at home by resting, eating healthy foods, drinking plenty of water, and avoiding alcohol and drugs.
Also, endeavour to know from your healthcare provider what medicines and herbal products to avoid, because some can make liver damage caused by hepatitis B worse.
It is advisable to completely avoid traditional medication particularly leaves and herbs.
Treatment for chronic hepatitis B depends on whether your infection is getting worse and if you’ve got liver damage.
Most people with chronic hepatitis B can live active, full lives by taking good care of themselves and getting regular checkups.
There are medicines for chronic hepatitis B, but they may not be right for everyone.
Consult your healthcare provider to decide if medicine is right for you.
Sometimes, chronic hepatitis B can lead to severe liver damage. If this happens, you may need a liver transplant.
The hepatitis B vaccine is the best way to prevent infection. The vaccine is a series of 3 or 4 shots.
Adults at risk and all babies, children, and teenagers should be vaccinated.
Pregnant women must attend regular antenatal clinics and receive all vaccinations.
To avoid getting or spreading the virus to others:
– Use a condom when you have sex with partners of unknown status.
– Don’t share needles.
– Wear latex or plastic gloves if you have to touch blood.
– Don’t share toothbrushes or razors.
– Don’t get a tattoo, or make sure that the needles used have been cleaned properly and are sterile.
TAKE HOME NOTE (for those in The Gambia):
There is a project at MRC UK – The Gambia Unit (Fajara) called PROLIFICA, which runs a clinic Monday – Thursday, where you can get in-depth information about hepatitis, be tested and cared for if tested positive.
There are also information and testing clinics/centres at Serrekunda, Banjul, Farafenni, Basang, Basse, Soma, Keneba and Brikama.
Written by Dr. Momodou A. I. Tekanyi – MBChB
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