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High Risk Adults Should Be Screened For Hepatitis B

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Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B may seem like an innocent finding on a blood laboratory test however it may be a potentially life threatening medical condition that affects the liver. It is a common health problem worldwide. Experts say that people who are high risk for the infection should be screened to prevent deaths from liver cancer and liver failure.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is becoming a common infection worldwide. It is a chronic infection; after many years the person may become predisposed to liver failure or liver cancer. Millions of people have already developed hepatitis B worldwide, and a percentage of these people die from the long-term complications of the disease. This illness can cause symptoms that can last for several weeks such as dark urine, extreme fatigue, yellowing of the eyes and skin, vomiting, nausea and abdominal pain. Some people who were infected by the virus have been infected since they were children and some were infected as adults.

Hepatitis B is commonly spread at birth from the mother to the child. It can also be transmitted from person to person during adulthood. One third of cases are passed on from the mother to child during birth and the rest of the population have been infected by the use of contaminated needles among drug users and through sexual transmission.

It is said that the hepatitis B virus can survive outside the human body for as long as 7 days. If the virus enters into the body within this period, the person may become infected if he or she is not protected by vaccination. Hepatitis viruses usually have an incubation period of about 75 days, although the range may be 30 to 180 days. It would be 30 to 60 days before the virus can be detected in the blood by laboratory tests. Most people do not feel or manifest any signs and symptoms after infection; however in some people there may be yellowing of the eyes or skin, fatigue, dark urine, vomiting, nausea and abdominal pain. In several of these people, the virus may cause a chronic liver infection that may develop into liver cancer or cirrhosis of the liver. While some people develop chronic liver infections, some healthy people may recover and get rid of the virus within six months.

There are some people who carry certain risks for this disorder. Risk is dependent on age; children less than 6 years of age who become infected with the virus are at risk of acquiring chronic infections later in life. For adults, less than 5 percent will develop chronic infection while 15 to 25% of adults who have chronic infections usually die from cirrhosis or liver cancer.

Hepatitis B is usually diagnosed by laboratory tests. Screening is done by detection of the hepatitis B surface antigen HBsAg. Blood donors should be screened for hepatitis B before they can donate blood. If the infection is acute, HBsAg and immunoglobulin M (IgM) antibody to the core antigen, HBcAg would be positive. Chronic infection is detected by the persistence of HBsAg for greater than 6 months. Those who have persistent HBsAg are at risk for having chronic liver disease and hepatocellular carcinoma later in life. If HBeAg is positive in the blood, this means that the patient is highly contagious.

There is no specific treatment for hepatitis B infection. Good nutrition should be given as well as adequate care and rest. Chronic hepatitis B is usually treated with interferon and antiviral agents.

Screening for Hepatitis B

According to a draft recommendation from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, high risk adults should be screened for hepatitis B including the following people: those born on countries or regions with a high rate of hepatitis B infection (Africa, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and the northern countries in South America), people born in the United States who were not vaccinated against hepatitis B in infancy whose parents were born in areas with a high rate of hepatitis B infection, those who are HIV-positive, IV drug users, gay and bisexual men, people with a weak immune system and those undergoing treatment for kidney failure. Vaccination should be done to be protected against the infection. To read more about hepatitis B, you can check out our other articles on this site.