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What is an HBV Infection?

Jacquelyn Gilchrist
Jacquelyn Gilchrist

HBV is an acronym for the hepatitis B virus. This virus causes hepatitis B, which is an infection of the liver. People with this virus may develop liver or kidney problems, and blood vessel inflammation. While there is no cure for an HBV infection, many people may fully recover.

There are two types of hepatitis B — acute and chronic. If the patient is ill for less than six months, the illness is classified as an acute infection. Illnesses lasting longer than six months are considered to be chronic hepatitis B. In some circumstances, the patient's immune system is unable to fight off the disease, and the patient will suffer from hepatitis B for life.

Vaccination may help prevent HBV.
Vaccination may help prevent HBV.

Hepatitis B is not an airborne disease, it must be transmitted through the exchange of bodily fluids. For example, a person may develop an HBV infection due to having had unprotected sexual intercourse with an infected person. Drug users may be at an increased risk for an HBV infection, from sharing infected needles. An HBV infection can also be spread from person-to-person via an accidental needle stick. Healthcare workers may be at risk of this, due to exposure from blood on the needles.

Additionally, infants may become infected during childbirth, if their mothers have hepatitis B. Infants or young children with HBV typically become chronically ill. A child over the age of five has less of a risk of developing chronic hepatitis B.

People with HBV can develop liver problems.
People with HBV can develop liver problems.

Some infants, children, and adults are unaware they have the disease because they exhibit no symptoms. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and typically appear two to three months following initial infection. They may include abdominal and joint pain, and dark urine. Some patients lose their appetites or experience nausea and vomiting. Symptoms may also include fatigue, weakness, and jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes.

Sharing razor blades, or other personal care items, may spread HBV infection.
Sharing razor blades, or other personal care items, may spread HBV infection.

The best way to treat an HBV infection is for the patient to seek medical care immediately. Patients who know they have been exposed to the disease can be given an injection of either the hepatitis B vaccine, or the hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG). These injections will cause the body to produce antibodies, a type of protein, to help fight off the disease. This can help prevent the patient from developing the infection. This treatment must be given within 24 hours of initial exposure.

If the patient's doctor determines that the infection is acute, he will likely monitor the patient, and provide treatment for any symptoms. An acute HBV infection may not require any further treatment, as it is not long-lasting. Blood tests can determine when the patient is fully healed.

Chronic hepatitis B typically requires more treatment. A doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication to help weaken the virus. Further treatment depends on how severe the disease has affected the patient's body. A chronic HBV infection may damage the patient's liver. Sometimes, the patient will require a liver transplant if the damage is extensive.

Hepatitis B is a serious medical condition that raises the risk of other illnesses. Liver scarring, liver cancer, and liver failure are all possible complications of an HBV infection. In this case, prevention is the best medicine.

To help prevent possible exposure, people should avoid sharing personal hygiene objects, such as razors and toothbrushes. Avoiding unprotected sexual intercourse and illicit drug use can also lower a person’s risk of contracting the disease. Another preventative measure is getting the hepatitis B vaccine, which is a series of three injections.

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    • Vaccination may help prevent HBV.
      By: Jonathan Vasata
      Vaccination may help prevent HBV.
    • People with HBV can develop liver problems.
      By: nerthuz
      People with HBV can develop liver problems.
    • Sharing razor blades, or other personal care items, may spread HBV infection.
      By: April Cat
      Sharing razor blades, or other personal care items, may spread HBV infection.