Hepatitis B is a serious infectious disease caused by the hepatitis B virus. This virus penetrates the liver cells and causes inflammation there. Some people experience few or no symptoms while others can be crippled by pain. This depends on the severity of the inflammation. Hepatitis is also called jaundice. This is due to an inflamed liver.
The hepatitis B virus is carried in the blood and is highly infectious. The virus also occurs in bodily fluids, such as sperm and vaginal fluid. However, blood is the most contagious.
How is it transmitted?
Symptoms in men and women
Often, Hepatitis B is symptomless, but 1 in 3 will manifest symptoms. This usually occurs 2 weeks to 6 months after the time of infection.
Symptoms may include:
Once infection sets in, jaundiece can occur. Eyes and skin may turn yellow. Urine becomes dark and faeces becomes light. As soon as the virus is treated, the liver usually recovers swiftly. However, sometimes the liver remains inflamed and symptoms remain. This is called chronic hepatitis B.
In 5 to 10 percent of the 'cured', the virus remains in the body for many years, sometimes for a lifetime. The body does not create any antibodies that completely destroy the virus. Someone who still carries this virus is also called a carrier of the hepatitis B virus. These "carriers" can go through life without physical complaints, but they remain infectious and can pass the virus on to other people.
Physical and blood tests should indicate whether you have hepatitis B.
Prevent others from touching contaminated blood, for example on toothbrushes, razors, shavers, nail clippers, faeces or sanitary napkins. When infected blood is on the skin or mucous membranes, it must be washed off as quickly as possible. Until the virus has disappeared from the blood, sexual contact must be protected, condoms must be used.
Usually, the disease cures itself. If your liver inflammation persists, you will be referred to a specialist, who will assess whether and what medicines are needed.
Hepatitis B is usually cured after a year. The blood is checked after six months. If the virus is out of the blood, you are no longer contagious and you can not regain the virus. However, some people continue to carry the virus and remain contagious.
Innoculation against Hep B is available and usually free. High risk individuals may be vaccinated, for example; partners of those with Hep B; mothers with Hep B; healthcare workers; nurses; residents of homes for the mentally ill. If you have Hep B, you should inform your partner so they can have themselves vaccinated.
Your GP is obliged to report any case of Hep B.