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Hepatitis B

The liver is the largest organ inside the body. In an adult, it is about the size of a football and weighs close to three pounds. It is located behind the ribs in the upper right-hand portion of the abdomen. Shaped like a triangle, the liver is dark reddish-brown and consists of two main lobes.

The liver is essential to life- it helps digest food, absorb nutrients, resist infections, removes wastes and poisons from the body, and makes proteins vital for blood clotting.

The liver is such an important organ that we can survive only one or two days if it shuts down - if the liver fails, your body will fail, too. Fortunately, the liver can function even when up to 75% of it is diseased or removed. This is because it has the amazing ability to create new liver tissue (i.e. it can regenerate itself) from healthy liver cells that still exist.

Hepatitis B is the most common serious liver infection in the world. It is caused by the hepatitis B virus that attacks the liver. The virus is transmitted through blood and infected bodily fluids. This can occur through direct blood-to-blood contact, unprotected sex, use of unsterile needles, and from an infected woman to her newborn during the delivery process

The good news is that there is a simple blood test to find out if you have been infected. There is also a safe and effective vaccine to protect you and your loved ones against hepatitis B. Finally, there are promising new treatments available for those who have developed chronic hepatitis B infections.

How Do I get Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is transmitted through blood and infected bodily fluids. This can occur through:

  • direct blood-to-blood contact
  • unprotected sex 
  • unsterile needles 
  • from an infected woman to her newborn during the delivery process.

Other possible routes of infection include sharing sharp instruments such as razors, toothbrushes or earrings. Body piercing, tattooing and acupuncture are also possible routes of infection unless sterile needles are used

Hepatitis B is NOT transmitted casually. It cannot be spread through sneezing, coughing, hugging or eating food prepared by someone who is infected with hepatitis B. Everyone is at some risk for a hepatitis B infection, but some groups are at higher risk because of their occupation or life choices.

High Risk Groups

  • Health care workers and emergency personnel
  • Infants born to mothers who are infected at the time of delivery 
  • Partners or individuals living in close household contact with an infected person 
  • Individuals with multiple sex partners, past or present 
  • Individuals who have been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease
  • Illicit drug users (injecting, inhaling, snorting, popping pills) 
  • Men who have sex with men 
  • Individuals who received a blood transfusion prior to 1992 
  • Individuals who get tattoos or body piercing 
  • Individuals who travel to countries where hepatitis B is common (Asia, Africa, South America, the Pacific Islands, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East) 
  • Individuals emigrating from countries where hepatitis B is common, or born to parents who emigrated from these countries (see above) 
  • Families adopting children from countries where hepatitis B is common (see above) 
  • Individuals with early kidney disease or undergoing kidney dialysis 
  • Individuals who use blood products for medical conditions (i.e.hemophilia) 
  • Residents and staff of correctional facilities and group homes

What are the Symptoms?

  • Hepatitis B is called a "silent infection" because most people do not have noticeable symptoms when they are first infected. When a healthy adult is infected with the hepatitis B virus, their body can respond in different ways. People who do not know they are infected can unknowingly pass the virus to others.
  • Hepatitis B causes no symptoms in about 69 percent of infected people. 
  • Approximately 30 percent of infected individuals will have some symptoms. Many will think they just have the flu and ignore the symptoms. 
  • About 1 percent of those infected will develop life-threatening "fulminant hepatitis". These people may go into liver failure and require immediate medical attention. Although this response is rare, fulminant hepatitis develops suddenly and can be fatal if left untreated.
  • Common symptoms of hepatitis B infection include:
  • Fever, fatigue, muscle or joint pain 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Mild nausea and vomiting
  • Serious symptoms that require immediate medical attention and maybe even hospitalization:
  • Severe nausea and vomiting 
  • Yellow eyes and skin ("jaundice") 
  • Bloated or swollen stomach 

It is always a good idea to talk to your doctor if you don't feel well or if you are uncertain about whether you have been infected with hepatitis B. A simple blood test can easily diagnose a hepatitis B infection.

Prevention

Hepatitis B is not casually transmitted - it cannot be spread through coughing, sneezing, hugging or sharing food.

Fortunately, hepatitis B is a vaccine-preventable disease. All sex partners, family and close household members of a chronically infected person should be screened and vaccinated.

It takes only 3 shots to protect yourself and your loved ones against hepatitis B for a lifetime.

The vaccine is readily available at your doctor's office or local health clinic. Three doses are generally required to complete the hepatitis B vaccine series, although there is an accelerated two-dose series for adolescents.

First Injection - At any given time
Second Injection - At least one month after the first dose
Third Injection - Six months after the first dose.

If you would like more information about getting vaccinated against Hepatitis B please contact the Brunswick offices and we can recommend local clinics to go to.