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Hepatitis B is an infection in your liver. It can cause cancer, liver failure, or scarring, and it can be fatal if left untreated. It is transmitted when you come in contact with body fluids, blood, or open sores of an infected person.
The good news is, however, that most cases of the disease resolve in a few months, because your immune system kicks in to fight it it off. Once it is resolved, you are then immune to it, which means you cannot contract it again.
How Do You Know If You Have It
When you first get it, the warning signs include:
- Jaundice – This is when your skin and/or the whites of your eyes turn yellow, and your urine turns orange or brown.
- Bowel movements are light in color.
- Persistent fatigue
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
Your symptoms may not show up for one to six months, and about one third of those infected, do not experience any symptoms at all. It is important to see your doctor for a blood test if you believe you have been exposed.
What Happens If You Have It
Most people recover, and your doctor will be able to confirm that when your blood tests show no sign of infection.
A few people, however, will not get rid of the infection. This is determined if your blood tests are still positive after six months. At this point you may not have any symptoms, but you are a carrier of the disease. This means you can spread it to others by:
- Contact with your blood or an open sore.
- Unprotected sex.
- Sharing syringes or needles.
The disease does eventually resolve in a small number of carriers. For the rest, it becomes a chronic condition, and due to the ongoing infection, you can develop the scarring or cancer mentioned above.
If you are currently infected or a carrier, you may not donate:
You also have a responsibility to tell anyone you may infect, such as sexual partners, your dentist, or your doctor, so that the necessary precautions can be taken.
How It Is Treated
It is important to see your physician as soon as you believe you may have been infected. He or she will administer a vaccine and a shot of hepatitis B immune globulin. This protein will help fight off the infection by boosting your immune system. You may have to go on bed rest to ensure a faster recovery.
You will also have to avoid liver-damaging substances such as Tylenol and alcohol. It is important to check with your doctor regarding all drugs, supplements, or herbal treatments. Some of them can be harmful, too. Be sure to eat a healthy, balanced diet. This will also help you fight off the infection.
If your infection resolves, your doctor will tell you that you are an inactive carrier. If it does not resolve within six months, your diagnosis will be chronic active hepatitis B, and he or she may prescribe some of the following treatments:
- Interferon alfa (Intron A, Roferon A, Sylatron) – This is an injection that you take for at least six months. While it does not cure the disease, it does treat the inflammation.
- Lamivudine (Epivir) – This medication is available in liquid or tablet form that you take once per day. Most patients tolerate it well. It is not recommended for long-term use, because you can become immune to it.
- Aidfovir dipivoxil (Hepsera) – This works well for patients who do not respond to Lamivudine treatment. It comes in a tablet form. High doses, however, can cause kidney problems.
- Entecavir (Baraclude) – This is the newest medication available. It is available in a tablet or liquid form.
- Tenofovir (Viread) – This medication is available in tablet or powder form. You will need routine tests to ensure it is not damaging your kidneys.
Should You Get The Hepatitis B Vaccine
You should be vaccinated if you meet any of the following criteria:
- Come in contact with body fluids or blood of infected family members or friends.
- Use needles to administer recreational drugs.
- Have sex with more than one person.
- Are a healthcare worker.
- Work in a jail, school, or daycare center.
While Hepatitis B is not curable, it’s treatable and occasionally resolves on its own. Be sure to take the precautions above to minimize your risk of contracting the disease, and see your doctor as soon as possible if you develop any symptoms.