Hepatitis B, commonly referred to as 'hep B', is a severe form of the hepatitis virus, a sexually transmitted disease that you should not ignore. It targets your liver - although an acute infection may clear up without the need for treatment, the chronic disease can cause severe liver damage such as liver failure, liver cancer and even death.
Thankfully, treatments for hepatitis B are readily available for anyone who needs them and ensure that your immune system will be strong enough to fight any future hepatitis B infection.
Many people who contract hepatitis B will fight it off without displaying any symptoms or even realising they have contracted the virus at all. These 'mild' cases are known as acute hepatitis B and occur when the infection is in its early stages of development and can be fought off by a person's immune system.
However, if you cannot fight off an acute case of hepatitis B, it may develop into chronic hepatitis B - which is a far longer-lasting infection after around six months or so.
The WHO (World Health Organization) estimates around 1.5 million new cases of chronic hepatitis B each year, with over 296 million cases in 2019 alone.
There is no specific treatment for an acute hepatitis B infection. As such, the primary aim is to limit a person, discomfort whilst their body fight off the infection - as well as helping them maintaining a nutritional and fluid balance to offset the loss of body fluids through diarrhoea or vomiting.
It should be noted that the WHO advises against taking unnecessary medications during this time, such as paracetamol or anti-vomiting medication.
For a chronic HBV infection (hepatitis B), oral antiviral medication can reduce cirrhosis (liver damage) and minimise the chances of liver cancer developing and improve the person's overall health life expectancy.
Without getting the hepatitis B vaccine, it is said that nearly all sexually active adults will develop HBV at some point in their lives. It is spread easily from person to person during vaginal, anal and oral sex, as well as close skin-to-skin contact.
Hepatitis B can also be spread through infected blood and bodily fluids by those who inject drugs or share needles or through unhygienic or unsterilised tattoo or pricing equipment, toothbrushes or infected razers.
Despite being the most common STI (sexually transmitted infection), men are far less likely to develop liver diseases or cancer from the HBV virus.
Certain men are at greater risk of liver damage or liver diseases, such as those with weakened immune systems (HIV) or men who receive anal sex.
One of the most common ways to pass hepatitis B from pregnant women to their children during childbirth.
Babies born to mothers with hepatitis B have a 90% chance of developing chronic hepatitis B if they do not receive proper treatment when they are born.
For this reason, it is vitally important that any pregnant women are aware of whether or not they are infected with hepatitis B to avoid passing it to their child during delivery.
If your doctor is aware of a hepatitis B virus infection in pregnant women, they can take the necessary steps (based on blood tests) to ensure the virus is not passed on to the child.
As hepatitis B often goes unnoticed, all pregnant women must get tested for hepatitis B.
This is particularly important for mothers who live in communities or countries where hep B is more common or those with infected spouses or partners.
Pregnant women should always get tested for HBV before giving birth, ideally before the end of their first trimester.
If a positive hepatitis B diagnosis is found, the doctors must immediately administer protection against the virus within the delivery room when the child is born.
This includes administering the first (or 'birth dose') of the hepatitis B vaccine and a single dose of hepatitis B immunoglobulin - a preparation of antibodies that offers short-term but immediately effective protection to stave off the development of the virus.
When these two medicines are both appropriately administered, the newborn child can have as much as a 90% chance of being protected against the HBV virus.
To ensure that the child remains protected against viral hepatitis B, they must receive the remaining doses of hepatitis B vaccination within the proper schedule.
At current, you cannot cure hepatitis B completely, but it can be treated if caught early enough.
Additionally, there is current ongoing scientific research into the potential application of DNA technology to stop the hepatitis B virus from replicating.
The vast majority of those diagnosed with the HBV virus will make a full recovery. However, people with a chronic infection may have to manage the virus throughout their lives.
The risk factors of developing chronic infections depend on when a person is first diagnosed with the virus, as younger children - particularly those under five - are at a far higher risk of the disease becoming chronic.
On the other hand, adults are at far less risk of developing a chronic HBV infection - although they should remember that the virus can lie dormant for several years before symptoms manifest themselves.
Chronic HBV cases often require long-term or lifelong treatment and monitoring to prevent liver disease, liver cancer or liver failure.
If you have had hepatitis B for over six months, your doctor will diagnose you as having chronic HBV and begin getting you on a course of treatment as quickly as possible.
Typically, treatment for chronic HBV involves the administering of antiviral medications.
These include Entecavir (or Baraclude), a front-line oral treatment taken every day without any adverse side effects.
Interferon alfa is another treatment option for chronic HBV infections, an immune system boosting medication administered as a shot every six months. Interferon alfa does not cure chronic HBV, but it does reduce liver inflammation.
Alternatively, a doctor may prescribe a liquid tablet called Lamivudine, which is taken once daily as a nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NRTI), which slows down the speed at which the hepatitis virus develops.
Lamivudine rarely causes any adverse effects in patients; however, if taken for sustained periods of time, the body can develop a tolerance that can reduce its effectiveness.
Another option for treating a chronic HBV infection is pegylated interferon, which is long-lasting interferon - a naturally occurring protein your body makes that affects cell growth and production.
Pegylated interferon is administered by injection weekly for around 6 months to a year and can cause a loss in appetite and varying degrees of depression in some patients. It also reduces a person's white-blood-cell count, making it more difficult to fight off other infections.
Other antiviral medications you may give to those with a chronic HBV infection include Tenofovir Alafenamide, Tenofovir disoproxil fumarate and Telbivudine.
When managing HBV, both acute and chronic infections, you must do everything possible to keep your liver healthy and working properly.
As such, alongside any medicines which your doctor prescribes, there are several other steps that a person can take to ensure they have the best possible chance of living a long and healthy life.
Because hepatitis B affects the liver, anyone with acute or chronic infections should never drink more than one alcoholic drink per day - and should ideally avoid alcohol altogether as it can lead to liver damage.
Additionally, someone with liver disease should avoid eating raw oysters, as they can carry germs and bacteria, potentially resulting in a blood infection.
Another good piece of advice for those with liver disease is to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables as part of a varied and healthy diet, as healthy or organic foods are generally kinder to your body and easier to digest.
Similarly, those who have liver diseases should try and exercise regularly - at least a few times throughout the week - and get plenty of sleep and avoid stress where possible.
Those who have active liver disease should also get a regular flu shot every winter. If their infection is more serious, they should get a pneumococcal vaccine to give themselves the best chance possible.
Routine blood tests can detect signs of the hepatitis B virus within a person's body and inform their doctor whether it is a chronic or acute HBV infection. You can get a blood test at your local GP or sexual health clinic - you can also opt for an at-home test kit if you'd prefer to test discreetly.
Alongside this, a routine blood test can also determine if a person is immune to the hepatitis B virus as it can screen for antibodies.
Not always, as it depends on the type of hepatitis B which a person has.
Acute HPV usually clears up on its own without the need for treatment - although you might require some minor treatment or medication to help people relieve any discomfort.
On the other hand, chronic HBV typically requires medication to manage disease control and avoid liver failure or the need for a liver transplant as time goes on.
If you have hepatitis B, you should avoid having unprotected sex and make sure that any sexual partners are aware of your HBV status.
Other precautions that someone with hepatitis B could take include is making sure that they check with their doctor before taking any drugs or medications - including over-the-counter ones, as certain medicines can damage your liver.
Yes, those who have hepatitis B can still lead normal, fulfilled lives.
Although a hepatitis B diagnosis can bring about drastic changes in a person lifestyle, diet and routine, providing that all of the correct health measures and approaches are taken, there is no reason that a person cannot live a long and otherwise healthy life.