Understanding hepatitis—especially the potentially deadly type B

The CDC urges everyone from newborns to age 60 to get a Hepatitis B vaccination

As COVID variants and money pox continue spreading, viruses seem to be plaguing us.

However, other viruses require our attention, too. The World Hepatitis Alliance has designated July 28 as World Hepatitis Day to heighten awareness of the five main hepatitis virus types and how to guard against infection.

Hepatitis is a liver inflammation usually caused by a viral infection. The types are A, B, C, D, E, and G.

The seriousness of each type varies. Hepatitis A causes people to be sick for a few weeks up to a few months, and most people who contract hepatitis A recover. But Hepatitis B and C are far more serious, and the D, E, and G types are rare in the United States.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children between 12 months and 23 months old get a Hepatitis A vaccine, along with infants from six months to 11 months old traveling internationally.

The CDC encourages everyone from newborns to age 60 to get the Hepatitis B vaccination.

Is there a cure for hepatitis B?

While hepatitis B cannot be cured, newer, less toxic drug therapies have effectively slowed the disease progression in chronically infected people. Even those with advanced liver disease have more prolonged survival and better quality of life because of newer drug therapies.

Chronic hepatitis B infection affects at least 250 million people worldwide and leads to more than 880,000 deaths annually. It also is the primary cause of liver cancer, the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States.

Unlike hepatitis C, hepatitis B can be prevented with vaccines. If you are accidentally exposed to the virus, there also are drug therapies you can take—called postexposure prophylaxis—to avert the infection.

How does hepatitis B spread?

The hepatitis B virus is found mainly in the blood but can appear in semen and vaginal secretions.

The virus is transmitted when body fluids from someone with hepatitis B enter the body of someone without hepatitis B. Transmission can occur when sharing needles or syringes, engaging in vaginal or anal sex, or during childbirth, when the virus can be passed from mother to baby.

Since hepatitis B and HIV are primarily transmitted through sexual contact and injection-drug use, many adults at risk for HIV infection are also at risk for hepatitis B infection.

The CDC says that a new concern now includes the number of American children affected by acute hepatitis for no known cause. The CDC encourages parents and caregivers to be aware of hepatitis symptoms— particularly jaundice, a yellowing of the skin or eyes — and to contact their child’s health care provider with concerns.

What are the symptoms?

Many people with hepatitis have no symptoms, and symptoms of acute infection can appear anytime from two weeks to six months after exposure. But signs of chronic viral hepatitis can take decades to develop.

Symptoms of hepatitis can include fever, fatigue, nausea, jaundice, joint pain, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, dark urine, and light-colored stools.

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