Understanding Hepatitis B and Effective Prevention Measures
Hepatitis B is a viral infection that can lead to chronic liver disease if left untreated. It is crucial to have knowledge about hepatitis B and adopt effective preventive measures to combat this disease.
1. Understanding Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV) and primarily affects liver function. The virus poses a significant global health threat, with over 2 billion people infected worldwide, including approximately 400 million individuals living with chronic hepatitis B. Each year, 1.5 million new infections are reported. In Vietnam, about 20% of the population is affected by the hepatitis B virus.
Chronic hepatitis B is a leading cause of liver failure, cirrhosis, and liver cancer. It can affect anyone, and complete recovery from chronic hepatitis B is relatively rare. The primary goals are to prevent HBV infection, identify cases early, monitor the condition, and provide treatment when necessary to prevent complications such as cirrhosis, liver cancer, and liver failure.
2. Recognizing Symptoms of Hepatitis B Infection
Hepatitis B often presents with vague symptoms, making it challenging for patients to recognize the infection. In some cases, individuals may be infected without being aware of it. However, even in the absence of symptoms, the hepatitis B virus can silently cause severe liver damage over time.
Therefore, it is essential to be aware of the following symptoms associated with hepatitis B:
- Fatigue and loss of appetite
- Joint pain
- Frequent nausea and vomiting
- Dark yellow urine
- Abdominal pain
- Dark greenish-gray stools
- Frequent digestive disorders
- Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes)
- Unexplained bleeding under the skin
- Pain in the lower right abdomen
- Abdominal swelling and distension
Undetected, unmonitored, and untreated hepatitis B can progress to liver failure, cirrhosis, ascites, or liver cancer, posing serious health risks.
3. Transmission of Hepatitis B Virus
The hepatitis B virus shares a similar mode of transmission to the HIV virus. However, due to its unique characteristics, the hepatitis B virus is considered more dangerous than HIV.
While HIV cannot survive outside the body for long periods or be easily transmitted in natural environments, the hepatitis B virus can survive for at least 7 days and remain infectious during this time. Additionally, the human body lacks natural protection against HBV unless vaccinated.
Similar to HIV, the primary routes of hepatitis B transmission include blood contact, sexual contact, and mother-to-child transmission.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the infectivity of the hepatitis B virus is 50-100 times higher than that of HIV. Here are three important routes of hepatitis B transmission:
Pregnant women with hepatitis B can transmit the infection to their babies during childbirth (vertical transmission) or through close contact with young children (horizontal transmission). Preventing mother-to-child transmission is a vital strategy in controlling the HBV epidemic. The risk of transmission ranges from 70% to 90% for women with high levels of the hepatitis B virus in their blood and from 10% to 40% for those who are HBeAg negative. Pregnant women with high HBV DNA levels should receive antiviral prophylaxis to prevent transmission and protect their newborns.
Hepatitis B can be transmitted through blood transfusions, blood donations, injections, and unsafe practices like sharing razors or toothbrushes with infected individuals.
Engaging in unprotected sexual activity with someone infected with hepatitis B increases the risk of transmission. The hepatitis B virus can be transmitted through any type of heterosexual or homosexual behavior.
4. Effective Prevention of Hepatitis B
Vaccination against hepatitis B is currently the most effective method for preventing the disease. If the infection progresses to the chronic stage, medications can only control the virus in the body. The World Health Organization recommends administering the first dose of the hepatitis B vaccine within 24 hours of birth, followed by 2 or 3 additional doses spaced at least 4 weeks apart.
Additionally, consider the following preventive measures:
- Practice safe sex and use condoms to reduce the risk of hepatitis B virus transmission.
- Undergo regular health check-ups to enable early detection, monitoring, and appropriate treatment if needed.
- Before attempting to conceive, both partners should be tested for hepatitis B to determine their infection status.
- Pregnant women should receive regular check-ups throughout their pregnancy to ensure a healthy outcome.
- Cover open wounds to prevent hepatitis B virus transmission.
- Avoid sharing needles or other drug paraphernalia.
- Always use new and sterile syringes.
- Avoid direct contact with the blood, open wounds, or bodily fluids of others without appropriate protective gear.
- Refrain from obtaining tattoos, dental work, acupuncture, eye or lip tattoos at unsecured and unsafe establishments.
- Avoid sharing personal items such as toothbrushes, nail clippers, and razors.
- Educate children on how to prevent hepatitis B to minimize the risk of infection.
By understanding hepatitis B and adopting effective preventive measures, we can work towards reducing the prevalence of this disease and safeguarding public health.