Hepatitis B virus and hepatocellular carcinoma are intricately linked. Most people who acquire hepatitis B infection recover without incident. However, in some individuals hepatitis B infection becomes chronic and serious and can lead to liver failure, liver cancer of cirrhosis. Liver cirrhosis is a condition whereby the liver is replaced by fibrous tissue and loses it functional ability. Both adults and children are prone to chronic hepatitis B infection. There is no cure for hepatitis B infection but the disease can be prevented by a vaccine.
Hepatitis B symptoms usually occur 4-8 weeks after acquiring the infection. Symptoms may range from mild to severe and include:
– Vague right abdominal pain
– Tea or dark colored urine
– Pale stools
– Joint and muscle pain
– Nausea and persistent vomiting
– General fatigue
– Yellow discoloration of skin and eyes
Some children and adults with hepatitis B infection may have no signs or symptoms.
Hepatitis B virus can be acquired in a number of ways including:
– Sexual contact with an infected partner
– Sharing intravenous needles
– Accidental needle sticks which may occur in health care professional
– During pregnancy from mother to child
The acute hepatitis B infection only lasts a few months, as the body is able to fight off the virus infection. The chronic hepatitis B infection usually lasts for months or perhaps years. In the chronic state, the body is unable to clear the virus. This allows the virus to slowly damage the liver, which results in liver cirrhosis or cancer.
Diagnosis of hepatitis B can be made by a variety of blood tests. Testing is recommended for all individuals who are at high risk or have high-risk behaviors. In some cases, a liver biopsy may be required.
Acute hepatitis B infection can be treated with immunoglobulin if the individual seeks medical help within 24 hours after coming in contact with the virus. This may prevent development of full-blown Hepatis B infection. Other individuals with acute hepatitis B infections only require supportive therapy like pain control and hydration.
Hepatitis B treatment may involve use of anti viral medications. If the liver has been severely damaged and has lost all function, then a liver transplant may be the only other option.
The best way to treat hepatitis B infection is to prevent it in the first place. Prevention can be done with the hepatitis B vaccine which is given in a series of three injections over 6 months. The vaccine is safe and the only side effects are transient arm pain or redness. The hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for all infants, health care workers, HIV positive individuals, gay men, individuals who lead a promiscuous life style, those who use illicit intravenous drugs and those with chronic liver disease.
Other ways to reduce risk of hepatitis B infection is to (1) avoid unprotected sex or have multiple sex partners (2) stop using illicit intravenous drugs or sharing dirty needles (3) be careful where one gets body piercing/ tattooing and (4) using a condom if the status of your sex partner is unknown.
Hepatitis B virus and hepatocellular carcinoma are a deadly combination but both can in fact be prevented by being vaccinated.