Hepatitis simply means “inflammation of the liver”. Hepatitis B is a specific type of hepatitis that is caused by a virus. In Malaysia, about 5 per cent of the population is affected by hepatitis B. This rate is highest among the Chinese.
HOW DO I BECOME INFECTED WITH HEPATITIS B?
- Mother to infant — Hepatitis B can be passed from a mother to her baby during or shortly after delivery. This is the most common route of transmission among Malaysians.
- Sharing contaminated needles for recreational drugs (dadah), tattooing, acupuncture and ear piercing.
- Sexual contact with someone who is infected with hepatitis B.
- Close contact — Hepatitis B can be spread through close personal contact. This could happen if blood or other bodily fluids get into tiny cracks or breaks in your skin or in your mouth or eyes. The virus can live for a long time away from the body, meaning that it can be spread by sharing household items like toothbrushes, or razors.
Blood transfusion and organ transplantation
In most cases, hepatitis B causes no symptoms for many years. Everyone with chronic hepatitis B is at increased risk of developing complications, including liver scarring (cirrhosis) and liver cancer.
Acute hepatitis B — after a person is first infected with hepatitis B, they are said to have acute hepatitis. Most people with acute hepatitis B recover uneventfully.
However, in about 5 per cent of adults the virus makes itself at home in the liver, where it continues to make copies of itself for many years. People who continue to harbour the virus are referred to as “carriers”. If liver damage develops because of longstanding infection, the person is said to have chronic hepatitis.
Chronic hepatitis B — chronic hepatitis B develops more commonly in people who are infected with the virus at an early age (often at birth). Many people with chronic hepatitis B have no symptoms at all; other people have symptoms of on-going liver inflammation, such as fatigue and loss of appetite.
Hepatitis B cirrhosis — this is the advanced stage of the disease and may happen many years after on-going inflammation of the liver. The symptoms associated with liver cirrhosis:
- Distended abdomen due to accumulated fluid
- Vomiting blood
- Passing black faeces
Diagnosed by a blood test – HBsAg test.
HEPATITIS B TREATMENT
In people who develop chronic hepatitis, an antiviral medication might be recommended to reduce or reverse liver damage and to prevent long-term complications.
Antiviral therapy — several antiviral medicines are available to treat hepatitis B. Not all people with hepatitis B need immediate treatment. If you do not start treatment immediately, you will be monitored over time to know when hepatitis becomes more active.
- Discuss the infection with any sexual partners and use a latex condom with every sexual encounter
- Do not share razors, toothbrushes, or anything that has blood on it
- Cover open sores and cuts with a bandage
- Do not donate blood, body organs, other tissues, or sperm
- Anyone who is at risk of hepatitis B infection should be vaccinated.
- Do not share any injecting drug equipment
- All infants in Malaysia, regardless of the mother’s hepatitis B status, will get the hepatitis B vaccine at birth, at 1 to 2 months, and at 6 months.