Q: Good morning ma’am. Please help me. A friend of mine has been going through a lot of emotional pain.. She has been in a relationship for 3yrs and she didn’t know that her fiancé had hepatitis B. He just told her last week when he was sick that he tested positive for hepatitis B some years ago, but they told him that it wasn’t the serious one. She’s doesn’t know what to do – maybe she has contracted it. Please your advice ma’am.
A: Hepatitis B infection is caused by the Hepatitis B virus (HBV) and it can cause very serious symptoms in people or it could very well pass unnoticed and be discovered by chance. The infections that occur in adults are usually acute and the body is able to clear the infection within 6 months. However, in a small proportion of adults and in a lot of infections occurring in children, the infection remains the body for a long time (chronic) leading to complications like liver failure and cirrhosis of the liver.
The symptoms include yellowness of the skin and eyes, dark urine, fatigue, body and joint aches etc. These symptoms vary in severity and appear about 3 months after infection.
Causes of HBV infections include contact with infected sharps like needles, sexual contact with an infected person, having multiple sexual partners, sharing needles used for intravenous drug use.
If one suspects exposure to HBV infection, an immunoglobulin injection, if taken within 24 hours can prevent the infection. Treatment depends on the type of HBV infection…whether acute or chronic. To confirm whether the infection is acute or chronic, the doctor runs a couple of tests.
The Hepatitis B surface antigen. A positive test result confirms that an infection is present but does not tell us if it is acute or chronic.
The Hepatitis B surface antibody. A positive test confirms that an infection had occurred but the body had developed antibodies to fight off the infection. This person is no longer contagious.
The Hepatitis B core antibody. A positive result tells us that a past or present infection exists. This is mainly interpreted in conjunction with the other two tests.
If the core antibody is positive and the surface antibody is positive, it means that the body had encountered this infection and fought it off in the past. This is likely to be an acute infection.
If the core antibody is positive and the surface antigen positive, it is more likely to be a chronic infection.
Treatment for acute infections focus on alleviating the symptoms noted above. Treatment for chronic infections focus on use of antiviral drugs and other medications that improve liver function. If liver function Is badly affected, transplant might be an option.
So, the first focus for her is to confirm if she has been infected. If yes, then, confirm if it is an acute or a chronic infection. That will determine the way forward. Remember that you can improve liver function by staying off alcohol, exercising, eating a lot of fruits and vegetables and not self-prescribing.
Generally, to avoid this infection, reduce your risk factors: Know the Hepatitis status of partner and be faithful to that person, where necessary, use condoms, stop the use of illicit drugs, do not share needles and other sharps, be careful with tattooing et al.
Vaccines are available for this virus and is now listed on the National Program on Immunization schedule. All adults who also have risk factors as noted above should also take this vaccine.
I hope this helps