Hepatitis B is irritation and swelling (inflammation) of the liver due to infection with the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Hepatitis B infection can be spread through having contact with the blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and other body fluids of someone who already has a hepatitis B infection. There is a high prevalence of the disease in South Africa.
Infection can be spread through:
- Blood transfusions
- Direct contact with blood in health care settings or outside
- Sexual contact with an infected person
- Tattoo or acupuncture with unclean needles or instruments
- Shared needles during drug use
- Shared personal items (such as toothbrushes, razors, and nail clippers) with an infected person
The hepatitis B virus can be passed to an infant during childbirth if the mother is infected.
High Risk Individuals for hepatitis B infection include:
- Using Intravenous Drugs
- Being infected with HIV
- Being on haemodialysis
- Having other chronic diseases
- Having multiple sex partners
- Men having sex with men
Symptoms may not appear for up to 6 months after the time of infection. Early symptoms may include:
- Appetite loss
- Fever, low-grade
- Muscle and joint aches
- Nausea and vomiting
- Yellow skin and dark urine due to jaundice
People with chronic hepatitis may have no symptoms, even though gradual liver damage may be occurring. Over time, some people may develop symptoms of chronic liver damage and cirrhosis of the liver or even end up with cancer of the liver.
Hepatitis B vaccines have been available for over 20 yrs now and WHO plans to eradicate by vaccinating all children. In South Africa the vaccination campaign started in 1996 and all children born since are vaccinated.
As there is a high prevelance of Hepatitis B in the population and we do have a high incidence of motor vehicle accidents as well as HIV, it is advisable for all South Africans to be vaccinated against Hepatitis B. The vaccination schedule is either Day 0, 7 and 21 or Day 0, 1 month and 6 months which protects one for 5 years.