28th July is World Hepatitis Day. This event was created in an effort to spread awareness of the different strains of Hepatitis so that individuals can better understand these conditions and how dangerous they can be.
The theme of this year’s event is “Hep Can’t Wait!” – chosen because many people can’t wait for life-saving treatment, can’t wait to be tested, and how those living with Hepatitis can’t wait for discrimination and the stigma surrounding these conditions to end.
As such, we’ve decided to write a series of blogs on the different strains of Hepatitis, so that you can learn more and understand these conditions better. Indeed, with someone dying of a Hepatitis-related condition every 30 seconds1, we can’t wait either, and we should all be aware of these viruses so that we can help where possible.
This blog will focus on Hepatitis B.
What is Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis is a term used to describe inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis B is just one type of liver infection caused by a bloodborne virus, but differs from other strains of Hepatitis in a few significant ways.
Hepatitis B infections can be split into two categories – acute and chronic. Acute infections last up to three months, while chronic cases can last a lifetime. Chronic infections may lead to life-threatening conditions such as cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer.2
How does it spread and who is at risk?
Much like many other viruses, Hepatitis B is spread through blood and bodily fluids. This means that someone can pick up the infection if they come into contact with someone’s blood, engage in unprotected anal or vaginal sex, or live with someone with a chronic Hepatitis B infection and share personal care items such as nail clippers and toothbrushes with them.3
It may also be spread through drug-related activities such as sharing needles. Plus, dental treatment, medical treatment, tattoos and piercings can all spread the virus if performed with unsterilised instruments and equipment.4
Risk groups include those who have unprotected sex with multiple partners, people from or visiting high-risk countries (African nations and South-East Asia) and those who inject drugs.5
Symptoms and treatment
Hepatitis B is quite interesting in that it doesn’t always cause any symptoms at all in infected adults. Plus, acute infections do tend to clear up on their own without treatment. However, children who contract the virus can have an infection that persists for years, eventually resulting in permanent liver damage.
Symptoms of the virus include feeling flu-like and suffering from headaches, tiredness, fever and general aches and pains. Sufferers may also experience a loss of appetite, diarrhoea, stomach pain and, eventually, jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin).6
There is a vaccine available for Hepatitis B. However, if someone should still become infected, treatment options will depend on the severity of their case and the stage of the infection. If someone has been exposed to the virus within the last few days, there is treatment available to prevent the infection from taking hold. In cases of acute infection, treatment usually involves helping reduce symptoms while the body naturally fights off the infection by itself.
Chronic infections, on the other hand, can become a lifelong condition, and regular monitoring and treatment is required to ensure that liver function remains healthy.7
Helping prevent the spread
In the UK, we are lucky that the Hepatitis B vaccine is routinely available for all babies born in the country. It is also available for anyone who falls under any of the risk categories associated with the disease. However, this isn’t the case for millions of people around the world, and therefore knowing about the disease and spreading awareness is vital.
To find out how to get involved with World Hepatitis Day.
1 World Hepatitis Day. Hep Can’t Wait. Link: https://www.worldhepatitisday.org/ [Last accessed May 22].
2 NHS. Hepatitis B. Link: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hepatitis-b/ [Last accessed May 22].
3 New York State Department of Health. Every Week Hundreds of People Get Hepatitis B. Link:
https://www.health.ny.gov/publications/2340/#:~:text=The%20hepatitis%20B%20virus%20can,toothbrushes%2C%20razors%2C%20or%20nail%20clippers [Last accessed May 22].
4 Change Grow Live. Hepatitis: Testing, Treatment, How To Stay Safe. Link: https://www.changegrowlive.org/advice-info/find-advice-info/health-and-wellbeing/hepatitis?gclid=EAIaIQobChMItMe9kIzS9wIVB4FQBh1bAwgiEAAYASAAEgIJl_D_BwE [Last accessed May 22].
5 NHS. Hepatitis B. Link: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hepatitis-b/ [Last accessed May 22].
6 NHS. Hepatitis B. Link: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hepatitis-b/ [Last accessed May 22].
7 NHS. Hepatitis B. Link: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hepatitis-b/ [Last accessed May 22].