Hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection recognised nearly 40 years ago with the identification of the Australia antigen remains a global health problem. It is estimated that 2 million people worldwide have been infected with HBV 350 million are chronically infected and 50 million new cases are diagnosed annually.
HBV remains the leading cause of cirrhosis (destruction of the liver) and Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Of those chronically infected 15% to 25% will die of sequela related to HBV infection.
If routine infant HBV vaccination with 3 doses is given to the population then 68% of HBV related deaths could be prevented.
The virus is transmitted via various routes. HBV is ubiquitous in body fluids including blood saliva, sweat, breast milk, tears, vaginal secretions, semen and menstrual blood.
Viral transmission can be mother to child (vertical or perinatal transmission) and by percutaneous of mucosa exposure to infectious bodily fluids.
After any person who is infected by any one of the following mentioned above routes of transmission, the incubation period of the virus ranges from 45 to 160 days.
There are various tests available to check if ones infected or not. They are basically blood tests which shall be mentioned later. In areas of low prevalence of HBV infection the transmission is more commonly via unprotected sexual intercourse, IV drug abusers or occupational exposure to blood or blood products like our paramedical workers.
It is important to safeguard ourselves in the form of having simple hand gloves are a good way to protect ourselves in times of calamity.
Most hospitals in Mumbai follow very strict guidelines. Disposable needles are used and they are disposed of according to infection control guidelines.
In acute hepatitis B one can develop symptoms like yellow discoloration of eyes, generalised weakness, loss of appetite/weight, nausea, vomiting, pain in abdomen and fever. If severe, then bleeding disorders can be seen. If very severe, then the person can become comatose but this is not very common.
In chronic hepatitis B infected people, they can have liver related complications like vomiting of blood (haematemesis) ,black tarry stools (malena), loss of consciousness (hepatic encephalopathy), fever (because of low immunity) ,distension of abdomen (ascites), swelling of the legs (pedal edema).
For detection, there are routine blood tests available and can be done in any reputed laboratory. There are specialised test also available and have to be done if the person is chronic infected.
If there is accidental exposure to the virus then injection immunoglobulin is recommended. There are vaccines which are available and it is advised to all so that one is protected.
The author is an MD, DNB, Con Interventional Gastroenterologist, Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre