The word "hepatitis" means liver inflammation, and it's used for a number of liver complications, but one of the best known types of hepatitis is hepatitis B. If you have chronic hepatitis B or know somebody who does, then you may wonder if there is a cure for the condition. Because chronic hepatitis B is a viral condition, there's no way to get rid of it, but there are ways to reduce the amount of virus in the body.
Hepatits B is a virus that attacks the liver, inflaming it and making the liver unable to properly process the body's waste products. Most people who get hepatitis B will have what's called an acute infection -- the viral infection will go away on its own after a period of a few days or weeks. However, some people develop a chronic infection that doesn't go away (a chronic hepatitis B infection is defined as one lasting longer than six months). These people are at risk of serious complications.
Hepatitis B can be spread in a number of ways. These include having unprotected sexual contact with an infected person (hepatitis B can be spread through blood, semen, vaginal secretions and saliva) and sharing intravenous needles with an infected person. Health care workers can also be at risk of infection if they work with needles. Hepatitis B infection can also be spread from mother to child, although infants greatly reduce their chances of developing hepatitis B if they receive hepatitis B immune globulin and a hepatitis vaccine at birth. Hepatitis B cannot be spread through casual contact such as hugging or shaking hands, or through water such as in a swimming pool or toilet.
Hepatitis B symptoms can actually be very mild; if you have an mild acute case, you may never even notice the symptoms or confuse them with the stomach flu. Symptoms of hepatitis B include dark urine, abdominal pain (especially near the liver), weakness, tiredness, joint pain, gastrointestinal distress and jaundice. These symptoms usually appear about 12 weeks after exposure. The complications of untreated chronic hepatitis B are more frightening -- sufferers can develop cirrhosis (scarring of the liver tissue), which puts them at risk of liver failure and liver cancer. In addition, they are at risk of contracting hepatitis D, a virus that worsens the effects of hepatitis B. Hepatitis D is transmitted in the same ways as hepatitis B.
Unfortunately, because hepatitis B is a virus, there is no way to "cure" it. In the case of acute infection, the body's immune defenses are able to eradicate the hepatitis B virus. If the disease becomes chronic, then it is a question of controlling the hepatitis B virus rather than eliminating it. Antiviral medications can help prevent hepatitis B from further attacking your body, although once you stop treatment the symptoms can significantly worsen and some antiviral medications can eventually produce a resistant strain of hepatitis B. In some cases, a liver transplant may be necessary.
You can help prevent hepatitis B transmission by getting the hepatitis B vaccine. The hepatitis B vaccine is given to infants and then usually given to adolescents in two doses. If you haven't gotten the hepatitis B vaccine booster in your teens, it's a good idea to go in for your vaccine now -- it provides 90 percent protection against hepatitis B and it lasts for a good 23 years, so you don't have to worry about getting the shots again for a while. Other ways to help prevent getting hepatitis B include using protection during sex, using a needle exchange and being careful when you travel abroad -- some places have endemic hepatitis B.
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