WHAT IS IT:
Hepatitis B virus is one of several viruses that can infect the liver. The presentation of the condition can vary from asymptomatic to a severe, life-threatening acute disorder. Hepatitis B can become chronic. The chronic form of the condition can lead to severe disorders such as liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.
WHO IS AT RISK AND WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS:
Hepatitis B is more common when travelling in Asia, Africa and South America, however anyone in Australia who isn't vaccinated against hepatitis B could be at risk of contracting the virus. Hepatitis B is more infectious than many other viruses and can survive for at least seven days outside of the body. Hepatitis B is considered an occupational hazard for health workers. During the acute infection phase most people don't experience any symptoms. Those who do suffer symptoms can experience extreme fatigue, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. Yellowing of the skin and eyes, known as jaundice, is also a symptom. More than 90% of healthy adults who contract hepatitis B will recover completely and be rid of the disease within six months. However, within some people it can cause chronic liver infection that will later develop into cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer. In addition, those infected may become chronic carriers and pass the disease on to others.
HOW IS IT SPREAD:
Hepatitis B is transmitted between people by direct contact with blood or via sexual contact. In a small number of cases, hepatitis B is transmitted from an infected mother to her newborn child at birth.
HOW IS IT PREVENTED:
Hepatitis B is a vaccine-preventable disease. Babies should be vaccinated at birth and, subsequently, receive three additional vaccinations at the age of two, four and six months.
Immunisation is also recommended for all healthcare workers in Australia and for those travelling to regions where the disease is more prevalent. The vaccine is an important preventative measure for Australians travelling to developing countries, where health standards may be lower, putting travellers at risk if they suffer injuries or an accident that requires a visit to a hospital. Australian travellers are advised to visit their RTH GP six to eight weeks before travelling overseas to discuss suitable vaccination options. Vaccination is also recommended for individuals who may take part in high risk activities like unprotected sex with new partners, tattoos or piercings in countries with lower sanitation practices or drug use. After immunisation with hepatitis B vaccine is complete, both children and adults will be protected against the disease for at least 20 years.
HOW IS IT DIAGNOSED AND TREATED:
Blood tests are available to diagnose and monitor hepatitis B. Someone who may have come into contact with the virus should seek advice from a GP. There is no specific treatment for hepatitis B. For individuals diagnosed with the disease, interferon and antiviral medications can help prevent the development or delay the progression of cirrhosis and liver cancer.
WHERE TO GET HELP:
Urgent medical advice is recommended for the onset of hepatitis B-like symptoms.