(HBV, Hep B)
Hepatitis B Overview
Hepatitis B is an infectious hepatitis caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). This infection has two possible phases; 1) acute and 2) chronic.
- Acute hepatitis B refers to newly acquired infections. Affected individuals notice symptoms approximately 1 to 4 months after exposure to the virus. In most people with acute hepatitis, symptoms resolve over weeks to months and they are cured of the infection. However, a small number of people develop a very severe, life-threatening form of acute hepatitis called fulminant hepatitis.
- Chronic hepatitis B is an infection with HBV that lasts longer than 6 months. Once the infection becomes chronic, it may never go away completely.
Most infected adults are able to fight off the virus so their infection is cured. A low percentage of adults infected with HBV go on to develop chronic infection. Children are at much higher risk for chronic infection. A majority of infected young children will fail to clear the virus from their bodies and go on to develop chronic infection.
About two-thirds of people with chronic HBV infection are chronic carriers. These people do not develop symptoms, even though they harbor the virus and can transmit it to other people. The remaining one third develop "active" hepatitis, a disease of the liver that can be very serious.
- The liver is an important organ that filters toxins out of the blood, stores energy for later use, helps with digestion, and makes substances that fight infections and control bleeding.
- The liver has an incredible ability to heal itself, but long-term inflammation caused by HBV can result in permanent damage.
- Scarring of the liver is called cirrhosis, a condition traditionally associated with alcoholism but one that is also caused by chronic active hepatitis B infection as well as other conditions. When this occurs, the liver can no longer carry out its normal functions and may fail completely. The only treatment for liver failure is liver transplant.
- Chronic hepatitis B also can lead to a type of liver cancer known as hepatocellular carcinoma.
- Any of these conditions can be fatal. About 15% to 25% percent of people with chronic hepatitis B die of liver disease.
Hepatitis B is the most common serious liver infection in the world.
In the United States, hepatitis B is largely a disease of young adults aged 20-50 years.
The good news is that infection with HBV is usually preventable because there is an effective vaccine. Use of the vaccine has resulted in a large decrease in the number of new infections reported in the United States each year.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/10/2015
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