Hepatitis B

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HEPATITIS B VACCINE – INTRODUCTION

Hepatitis B vaccine gives protection against disease caused by hepatitis B virus.

Hepatitis means any inflammation (swelling) of the liver. When the causative agent is a virus it is called Viral Hepatitis. There are different types of virus, which cause hepatitis. Among the common ones are Hepatitis A, B, C, D & E.

Clinical course

Hepatitis B virus causes destruction of the liver and is the leading cause of severe liver disease. Hepatitis B infection can occur at any age.

It can cause acute hepatitis, chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis of liver, liver cancer and even death. Only when it has damaged the liver considerably, do the symptoms become noticeable. And by then, it becomes too late to undo the damage.

After an infection, some patients may develop a severe liver failure leading to death. Most of the others recover.

In 5 % of cases however, the body cannot clear the infection. In these cases, the virus remains in the body. Such individuals become “Hepatitis B carriers” but appear to be healthy. They play amajor role in the spread of the virus as they carry the infection without being actually aware of it. Studies have shown that childrentend to become chronic carriers more as compared to adults.

Signs & symptoms

There may not be any obvious signs & symptoms in a majority of sufferers. Some patients develop symptoms like:

  • loss of appetite, nausea/ vomiting
  • mild fever
  • tiredness, bodyache
  • there may be yellow discoloration of skin & eyes (jaundice), dark urine & pale stools.

Modes of Spread

  • Blood Contact: With contaminated blood during transfusions, by contaminated needles (reused needles/syringes), during transplantation or dialysis.
  • Sexual Contact: Sex with an infected person.
  • Mother to Child: Infected mother can transmit the infection to her baby during the birth process.
  • Body Fluid Contact: Infection can spread by body fluids such as saliva (use of common toothbrush, bites etc.), breast milk, nasal secretions, tears, sweat and urine from an infected person to an uninfected person.

Cause of concern

  • Infection with Hepatitis B is a major public health problem.
  • 2 billion people have been infected and over 350 millionpeople in the world are chronic carriers.
  • World wide, up to 1 million people die of Hepatitis B related complications per year. Hepatitis B kills more people in a day than HIV kills in a year.
  • Approximately 4-5% of India’s population is a ‘chronic carrier’ of Hepatitis-B.
  • The carriers appear healthy, do not have any obviousclinical signs and can easily transmit the infection.
  • Moreover, there is no definite cure for this disease.

Prevention

The only sure shot way to prevent its spread is by vaccination. Its prevention is high on the priority in India.