Inflammation of the liver brought on by any cause is called hepatitis. Chronic hepatitis B is liver inflammation that persists for a minimum of six months but can last for years and that is caused specifically by the hepatitis B virus. Cases of chronic hepatitis B do not occur as frequently as the acute condition, tend to be mild and generally do not cause significant damage to the liver.
If inflammation persists, however, there is the threat of damage to the liver; cirrhosis, which is significant scarring of the organ; liver failure; and even liver cancer. This is why any inflammation of the organ must be taken seriously, and known causes of the disorder should be avoided whenever possible. Prescription drugs such as isoniazid, methyldopa and nitrofurantoin can cause the liver to become inflamed, as can some over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen.
The virus that can cause chronic hepatitis B is commonly transmitted between people who share needles to inject themselves with illegal drugs. It also can be spread via contact with body fluids such as urine, saliva, contaminated blood, vaginal fluid, semen, breast milk and tears. People who live in or spend much time in close environments such as correctional facilities, institutions for the mentally retarded or the insane and even day care centers have a higher risk of contracting the virus and developing chronic hepatitis B. There might be babies and young children in day care centers, particularly large ones, who were infected when the virus was passed to them by their mother at birth.
Older people and patients who have undergone a blood transfusion often suffer more serious results of infection, which can be fatal. Unusual or severe pain in the joints that is accompanied by the presence of itchy red hives on the skin, sometimes called wheals, are some of the signs and symptoms of this condition. If they are experienced, it is highly advisable for one to consult with a medical doctor who can order tests to check for infection.
Others who are at a higher risk of contracting the virus responsible for chronic hepatitis B include law enforcement officers and healthcare providers. In the United States, people in these positions are almost always required to receive vaccination against the virus. Traditional medical treatment in the U.S. for chronic hepatitis B might involve interferon-alpha or lamivudine, which might prove effective. The best protection against developing chronic hepatitis B includes avoiding high-risk behavior and receiving vaccination.