Hepatitis B infection is a condition where a person was infected by Hepatitis B virus (HBV), this virus commonly affect the liver. It can lead to complications like liver cirrhosis(scarring), chronic hepatitis ( liver inflammation) and even liver cancer which can eventually lead to premature death after many years.
In Singapore, estimated 3-4% population infected by hepatitis B virus, this is more commonly found in chinese population.
How Is Hepatitis B Transmitted?
The virus is transmitted by exposure to infectious blood or body fluids of someone who has chronic hepatitis B. it can be passed to someone else through unprotected sex, contaminated needles or other skin-piercing objects, direct contact of the blood or open sore. Hepatitis B most commonly transmitted between mother and newborn where the transmission rate is as high as 10% from mothers with high virus count to their new born, so it is compulsory for babies born to hepatitis B positive mothers to be vaccinated and given a special injection (with hepatitis B immune globulin) after birth. It is not spread by casual contact, sharing of eating utensils, coughing and sneezing, or breastfeeding.
What Are The Symptoms Of Hepatitis B?
Most patient with hepatitis B does not have symptoms. In some adult with acute hepatitis B, they can have symptoms of loss of appetite, persistent fatigue, vomiting, and jaundice.
Late symptoms of hepatitis B when the person has complications of cirrhosis are lower limbs swelling, abdominal swelling, jaundice and vomiting blood. They may have weight loss and abdominal pain if there is associated advanced liver cancer. Patient with advanced cirrhosis may also suffer from kidney failure, confusion or difficulty breathing.
How do i know if i have hepatitis B infection?
A simple blood test known as HBsAg(Hepatitis B surface antigen positive) can be done in any clinic or health screening centre. For those with chronic hepatitis B, the silent damage to the liver can occur for years until liver cirrhosis or liver cancer is discovered when it may then be too late.
Who should go for Hepatitis B screening?
All person with higher risk should get themselves tested. According to World Health Organisation, various groups of people who are identified to be at high risk of hepatitis B infection are those with:
- Sexual and household contacts of people with hepatitis B infection
- Injecting drug users
- People who are exposed to or requires blood/blood products such as healthcare workers
- Those with multiple sexual partners
- Dialysis patients
Why early detection For Hepatitis B is important?
Early detection and regular screening can prevent complications of liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. Not all cases of hepatitis B need treatment.
Imaging of the liver is recommended to be done every 6 months to detect liver cancer early so this can be treated early. Remember early liver cancer can be cured with surgery or radiofrequency ablation(RFA).
Your specialist may also carry out test to assess the extent of fibrosis of the liver, typically using a fibroscan. It is non-invasive and provides valuable information to prognosticate your liver condition and the need for treatment.
Controlling Hepatitis B Infection
In recent years, new drugs have become available for the treatment of hepatitis B which can help to control the virus and delay or possibly reverse liver damage. People infected with the virus should visit a clinic and see their doctors. Those who need treatment should see a liver specialist, even if they feel well or do not display any symptoms, so the infection can be controlled and prevent further complications.
In pregnancy, infected mothers should talk to their doctors about suitable treatments for hepatitis B to potentially reduce the risk of transmission to their baby during birth.
Treatment of hepatitis B is effective in preventing complications and further symptoms. It is usually carried out by specialists in gastroenterology. In Singapore, you can contact gutCARE to find out more. We would be happy to provide any information that you may need including cost of treatment.
This article is written by gutCARE liver specialist
- digestive illnesses