Hepatitis B, also known as Hep B, is a liver infection that is brought about by HBV (Hepatitis B virus). The disease is extremely devastating. It inflames the liver and causes plenty of uncomfortable symptoms and conditions including abdominal pain, painful joints, extreme fatigue, fever, jaundice and lack of appetite.
In its chronic form, Hepatitis B may cause dangerous complications such as anemia, the inflammation of blood vessels, kidney failure, liver failure, or the swelling of the abdomen.
The cause of Hepatitis B
The worst thing about the disease is the fact that it is contagious; it can be transmitted from one person to another through the virus. The HBV virus can be transmitted from one person to another via semen, blood and other bodily fluids. Some of the common ways one can get infected with Hep B include:
- Sexual activity with an infected individual
- Mother to child through birth
- Sharing of syringes, needles and razor blades with infected individuals
- Use of tattooing equipment used on infected individuals
- Unsafe disposal of medical equipment in hospital settings
Those who have multiple sexual partners, inject themselves with illegal drugs in group settings, work in hospitals or are born in countries where the HBV virus is common are more likely to contract the disease.
The Hepatitis B virus can live outside a human host for up to a week. This means one can still be infected if they use an equipment or a device that was used by an infected person a few days back.
Though the disease is highly contagious, it doesn’t get spread through the breastfeeding, holding hands, coughing or sharing of food or water with infected persons.
How is Hep B diagnosed?
If you feel as if you have any of the symptoms listed above then you may want to check into a hospital. There are several ways health care professionals can diagnose hepatitis B. Since it is an infection of the liver, most diagnosis tests focus on the liver.
Some telltale symptoms that physicians always look at before carrying out any further tests include checking for the presence of abdominal pain and whether or not the skin is yellowing.
After that, blood tests are often ordered. Blood tests can tell if you have the virus or if you are immune to the condition. Apart from blood tests, a liver biopsy could be ordered.
A liver biopsy is a medical practice that entails taking a small sample of the liver to examine and test for liver infection or damage. Don’t worry about the exercise. It is not exactly surgery. You will be nicely set up and a special needle will be inserted into your liver to remove liver tissue for analysis.
Imaging machines such as the ultrasound could also be used to check for liver damage.
How is it treated?
One can be treated to prevent Hepatitis B infection in the first place. This is especially crucial if he or she is highly likely to contract the disease. The treatment is usually in the form of vaccination against the virus.
However, if one is diagnosed with the disease, further tests are usually ordered to determine if the disease is acute or chronic.
Acute hepatitis B is acute. This means it is short-lived. Meaning it needs no medical intervention. It will go away on its own. However, most doctors will advise patients on what to eat and drink to stay strong so as to give the body what it needs to fight off the infection.
In cases where there might be complications, some medical interventions may be recommended to fight either the complication or to keep at bay. A hospital stay may also be recommended for close monitoring of the patient. Tests are often done after a while to check if the infection was indeed acute.
If the infection is found to be chronic, most people believe there is no treatment. (We will explain in the next section why this may no longer the case)
Since this is the belief, most doctors often recommend drugs that are meant to suppress the infection and to neutralize its harm on the liver. Thus, you will find that most physicians will recommend Interferon injections meant to help your body fight the infection. Others will recommend antiviral drugs to neuter the potential of the virus to cause damage to the patient’s liver.
When things become worse, a liver transplant may be recommended. This is often true when the infection is found to have done irreparable damage to the liver. But as we all know, liver transplants are not cheap and it often takes time to find the right donor.
Many people empathize with the situation that chronic hepatitis B patients find themselves in. The pain that these patients go through and the uncertainty of having to live with a disease for the rest of their lives is a really sad state of things.
Instead of just empathizing, some people are doing something about it. One of them is us of course. Idenix Pharmaceuticals is in the process of developing a variety of treatments for human viral diseases including hepatitis B.
Significant progress has already been made in the development of three drugs, Valopictabine NM 283, Valtorcitabine and Telbivudine.
The most significant of these drugs is Telbuvidine. This new drug has shown significant antiviral activity against Hep B in the liver. It is currently being tested for safety before it is subjected to approval tests by the FDA and other regulatory agencies.
Valtorcitabine is also being tested for Hep B treatment. It will be marketed as a drug that increases the efficiency of Telbuvidine in patients with slightly intolerant strains of Hepatitis B.
As you can see, significant progress has already been made. It is just a matter of time before these drugs hit the market. This means those suffering from chronic Hepatitis B can have hope again that they will live disease-free sooner rather than later.