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Hepatitis B is a serious disease caused by a virus that attacks the liver, the Hepatitis B Virus (HBV). It can cause lifelong infection, cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, liver cancer, liver failure, and death. The most common serious liver infection in the world, hepatitis B is more infectious than AIDS because it is very easily transmitted by blood with a single virus particle being able to cause the disease.

It is transmitted through infected blood and other body fluids like seminal fluid, vaginal secretions, breast milk, tears, saliva and open sores, unprotected sexual intercourse and illicit drug use. The other common mode of transmission is from Hepatitis B infected mothers to the foetus prior to birth. Persons at risk for HBV infection might also be at risk for infection with hepatitis C virus (HCV) or HIV.

Who is at risk of contracting HBV?
People who are exposed to blood or body fluids of an infected person are at risk including:

first aid and emergency workers
funeral directors
police constables
dentists and dental assistants
other medical personnel.

In addition, those at risk include

persons with multiple sex partners
intravenous drug users who share needles and syringes
infants/children of immigrants from areas with high rates of HBV infection
Hemo-dialysis patients
People living in the same household with an infected person.
People who work or are incarcerated in a prison.
Travelling to countries with a high incidence of Hepatitis B.
People who get tattoos made or have their ear or body pierced.

Once infected with the Hepatitis B Virus, approximately 10% of the people develop a chronic permanent infection. It is very common in Asia, China, Philippines, Africa and the Middle East. The overall incidence of reported Hepatitis B is 2 per 10,000 individuals, but the true incidence may be higher, because many cases do not cause symptoms and go undiagnosed and unreported. About 30% of persons have no signs or symptoms and only a blood test can tell for sure. Signs and symptoms are less common in children than adults.

Symptoms can include:

Pain in the joints
Weakness and fatigue
Dark coloured urine
Stools are clay coloured.
Generalised itching
Loss of appetite
Nausea and vomiting
Indigestion and abdominal pain
Tenderness and enlargement of the liver

Hepatitis B Prevention
There is no cure for people who have Hepatitis B. There are medications available to treat long-lasting (chronic) HBV-infection. These only work for certain people. The long-term effect of Hepatitis B without vaccination results in chronic infection occurring in:

90% of infants infected at birth
30% of children infected between the age of 1 to 5 years
6% of persons infected after the age of 5

Death from chronic liver disease occurs in:
15-25% of chronically infected persons

That is why prevention is so important. Hepatitis B vaccine is the best protection against HBV. Hepatitis B vaccine is available for all age groups to prevent Hepatitis B virus infection. Three doses are commonly needed for complete protection. Please contact your GP for further information.



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