The CDC estimates that about 2.4 million people are living with Hepatitis B, but that two-thirds of those people do not know they carry the virus.
“Hepatitis B is a vaccine-preventable, communicable disease of the liver,” said Kristin Pritts, director, Quality. Hepatitis B spreads when blood, semen or other body fluids from a person with Hepatitis B enters the body of someone who is not infected.
For many, the infection lasts about six months, but it can also become a chronic condition, causing a higher chance of liver cancer, cirrhosis and liver failure. “Individuals who have Hepatitis B may not know they have the virus because they may be asymptomatic. These individuals can still spread the virus to others,” Pritts said.
Hepatitis B symptoms may include jaundice, nausea, weakness, a fever, joint pain and abdominal pain. Because symptoms of Hepatitis B can take months to appear after infection, a person may not know they are spreading the virus to others during that time. Some people with the virus may not even experience symptoms.
“For many patients with Hepatitis B, treatment consists of careful laboratory monitoring of liver function and monitoring for fibrosis and cirrhosis, and viral load and antivirals if indicated,” said Sally Salmons, MD, associate chief medical officer, Ambulatory Care.
“Testing is ordered by a patient’s healthcare provider, typically during an appointment,” said Dr. Salmons. “Because this is a screening test, it would be ordered just as we screen for cholesterol and diabetes.” The healthcare provider will take a blood test to screen for the virus in the form of Hepatitis B antibodies and antigens.
While the Hepatitis B vaccine can prevent a person from becoming infected with Hepatitis B, it cannot cure the disease once infected. There is no cure for the disease, but physician-recommended lifestyle changes can help manage the symptoms. A physician may also prescribe medicine to prevent more damage to the liver.
And while there are other treatments to address Hepatitis B, the virus can also reactivate in patients who have received treatment.
“Patients who receive immunosuppressive therapy, the treatment for autoimmune disorders, transplant medications and inflammatory conditions, cancer chemotherapy, and those with Hepatitis C co-infection are at risk for HBV reactivation,” said Dr. Salmons.
“Through active screening, individuals can learn if they have Hepatitis B and get the appropriate recommendations for treatment and prevent spread,” said Pritts. “When individuals receive appropriate and timely treatment, it can lower the rates of cirrhosis, liver cancer and death due to chronic Hepatitis B infection.”
Screening for the virus can help prevent the spread and knowing about infection earlier on allows for patients to address their condition with treatments that are best for them.
For more information, visit Carle.org.
Categories: Staying Healthy