Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is a unique virus currently found in more than 350 million people worldwide. HBV appears in many forms and causes a variable amount of disease from individual to individual. Many patients, after years of infection, develop cirrhosis with all its complications, but this is not the case for everyone. Some patients can develop liver cancer without cirrhosis.
How Hepatitis B is Spread
HBV is easily spread by any method in which bodily fluids come into contact with the blood stream of another individual. Those who share needles for the purpose of intravenous drug use, who get tattoos or even ear piercing, who are inadvertently stuck by contaminated needles such as hospital personnel, or who have sexual contact with a hepatitis B virus-infected individual may become infected. Casual contact is rarely a problem.
Hepatitis B Prevention
The hepatitis B vaccine is safe and effective in protecting those who have not been exposed to the virus previously. Additionally, to guard against hepatitis B:
- Do not share drug needles.
- Wear gloves if you have to touch another person’s blood.
- Use a condom during sex.
- Do not borrow another person’s toothbrush, razor, or anything that could have blood on it, and make sure any tattoos or body piercings you receive are performed with sterile tools.
Hepatitis B Symptoms
When most individuals become infected with the hepatitis B virus, they are not aware of the infection for several weeks, until they develop symptoms of acute hepatitis, such as nausea, fatigue, and jaundice. The acute hepatitis phase may last for several weeks and occasionally leads to hospitalization, but acute hepatitis B resolves completely in 95 percent of those infected. Others who do not develop significant symptoms following exposure may not be aware of the infection.
Hepatitis B Treatment
Chronic hepatitis B is treated with drugs that slow or stop the virus from damaging the liver. The length of treatment varies, depending on the drug or drug combinations selected for treatment.
UT Southwestern is one of 13 sites for the Hepatitis B Research Network, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and is currently enrolling selected patients into a large study. Participation is entirely voluntary but offers the opportunity to receive cutting-edge care in a highly supervised environment.
The Clinical Center for Liver Diseases has been a part of more than 40 clinical trials in the last 20 years and has been part of major, national, ongoing research networks in hepatitis B, hepatitis C, drug-induced liver injury and acute liver failure. No other center in Texas can make this claim.