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Hepatitis B Treatment (cont.)

What causes hepatitis B?

HBV is a tiny organism found in high concentrations in the liver and blood of infected individuals. It is transmitted through contact with infected blood or contact with secretions contaminated with blood cells. For example:

  • intravenous drug users acquire the infection through sharing dirty needles;
  • health care workers can acquire hepatitis B through accidental needle sticks from infected patients;
  • because the virus is present in semen and vaginal fluid, sexual intercourse can also transmit the infection;
  • one of the major routes of infection is from an infected mother to her newborn child. Although these infants may not get very sick, they are very likely to become chronic carriers of the virus and to suffer complications of the infection in later life. Fortunately, prompt vaccination of newborns and other measures can provide significant protection for infants at risk.

What are the risks for hepatitis B?

Adults with a normal immune system who acquire hepatitis B have approximately a 95% chance of eventually eliminating the virus and making a complete recovery. During the weeks that the body is fighting the virus, the person may be very sick and a few (< 1%) may even die. Patients who do not clear the virus are chronically infected. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than one million Americans are chronically infected with HBV.

As discussed above, chronic infection with hepatitis B can cause cirrhosis, liver failure, or even death. Patients with chronic hepatitis B infection are also at risk for liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma). Between 15% and 25% of people with chronic infection will die prematurely from complications of hepatitis B. In the United States, chronic HBV infection was listed as the cause of 1,873 deaths in 2013.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/7/2016
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