The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that in 2019, hepatitis B affects approximately 296 million people, including over 6 million children under the age of 5. Hepatitis B contributes to an estimated 820,000 deaths every year. 25% of chronic hepatitis B infections progress to liver cancer. The Ministry of Health Malaysia reported HBV infections to have the highest incidence rate among vaccine-preventable diseases and ranked as the third leading cause of death in Malaysian public hospitals.
Hepatitis B is a serious liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Hepatitis B infection may be either short-lived (acute) or long-lasting (chronic).
Acute hepatitis B infection lasts less than 6 months. Your immune system likely can clear acute hepatitis B from your body, and you should recover completely within a few months. Most people who get hepatitis B as adults have an acute infection, but it can lead to chronic infection.
Chronic hepatitis B infection lasts 6 months or longer. It lingers because your immune system can’t fight off the infection. Chronic hepatitis B infection may last a lifetime, possibly leading to serious illnesses such as cirrhosis and liver cancer. The younger you are when you get hepatitis B, particularly newborns or children younger than 5 years old, the higher your risk of the infection becoming chronic. Chronic infection may go undetected for decades until a person becomes seriously ill from liver disease.
Causes: Hepatitis B infection is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). The virus is passed from person to person through blood, semen or other body fluids. It does not spread by sneezing or coughing.
Common ways that HBV can spread:
- Sexual contact – if you have unprotected sex with someone who is infected.
- Sharing of needles. HBV easily spreads through needles and syringes contaminated with infected blood. Sharing IV drug paraphernalia puts you at high risk of hepatitis B.
- Accidental needle sticks, for health care workers and anyone who comes in contact with human blood.
- Mother to the child. Pregnant women infected with HBV can pass the virus to their babies during childbirth.
Signs and symptoms of hepatitis B range from mild to severe. Some young children, may not have any symptoms.
Commonly, abdominal pain, dark urine, fever, joint pain, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, weakness and fatigue and yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
- Scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) – the inflammation associated with a hepatitis B infection can lead to extensive liver scarring (cirrhosis), which may impair the liver’s ability to function.
- Liver cancer – People with chronic hepatitis B infection have an increased risk of liver cancer.
- Liver failure – Acute liver failure is a condition in which the vital functions of the liver shut down. When that occurs, a liver transplant is necessary to sustain life.
- People with chronic hepatitis B may develop kidney disease or inflammation of blood vessels.
Prevention: Get immunized against hepatitis B by hepatitis B vaccination. It is typically given as 3 injections over six months. The vaccine is safe and gives good protection against hepatitis infection.
It is recommended for everyone, especially: newborns, people who live with someone who has hepatitis B, healthcare workers, emergency workers and other people who come into contact with blood, anyone who has a sexually transmitted infection, people with chronic liver disease, and people with end-stage kidney disease.
Other ways to reduce your risk of HBV include:
- Know the HBV status of sexual partner. Don’t engage in unprotected sex unless you’re absolutely certain your partner isn’t infected with HBV or any other sexually transmitted infection.
- Never share needles or any personal shaving items.
- Get a hepatitis B vaccination before travelling, to a region where hepatitis B is common. Hepatitis B occurs in nearly every part of the world but is more common in some countries in Asia, Africa, South America and the Caribbean.
Every year on July 28th, we celebrate World Hepatitis Day in honour of Dr Baruch Blumberg’s birthday. Dr Blumberg discovered the hepatitis B virus in 1967 and subsequently developed the hepatitis B vaccine two years later in 1969.
We commemorate World Hepatitis Day by raising awareness about viral hepatitis. It is so important to bring awareness to this preventable and treatable disease.