Hepatitis refers to the inflammation of the liver caused by a variety of causes, including toxins or viral infections. Hepatitis B is caused by Hepatitis B virus (HBV). It can lead to complications like liver cirrhosis, chronic hepatitis and even liver cancer which can eventually lead to death. While there are vaccinations as a preventive measure, one in 35 adults are infected with hepatitis B in Singapore, according to the Health Promotion Board. Additionally, there is a hepatitis B transmission rate of up to 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).
What Are The Symptoms Of Hepatitis B?
Most patient with hepatitis B does not have symptoms. Only rarely, they can have symptoms of loss of appetite, persistent fatigue, vomiting, and jaundice. You have chronic hepatitis B if you have the Hepatitis B surface antigen positive (a blood test) for more than 6 months, even if you do not show any symptoms. Most people would not know they are infected unless they get tested in a clinic. 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.
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 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, and transmission at birth from infected mother to child. It is not spread by casual contact, sharing of eating utensils, coughing and sneezing, or breastfeeding.
Getting Tested For Hepatitis B
Blood tests are carried out to diagnose Hepatitis B. If detected early, it can be controlled with medication in some cases to 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. Early liver cancer is treatable.
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.
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
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.
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