Hepatitis B Virus, also known as HBV, is a potentially life-threatening liver disease that can be either acute or chronic.
More infectious than HIV, Hepatitis B is contracted through contact with bodily fluids or blood of a person already infected with the disease. While less than 2% of the Canadian population is infected with HBV, it affects an estimated 1.2 million individuals in the United States and over 300 million individuals worldwide, resulting in the deaths of over 600,000 patients each year due to complications from the disease including cirrhosis – a condition that results in scarring of the liver usually as a result of exorbitant alcohol consumption, viral Hepatitis B and C, and other causes, in addition to liver cancer.
Symptoms of Hepatitis B Virus include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, dark urine, pale stools, joint pain, stomach pain and jaundice (yellowing of the skin.) However, more than half of those with Hepatitis B usually do not develop symptoms until their liver has been affected.
As mentioned, HBV is spread through contact with blood and bodily fluids. It can also be contracted through using unsterile tattooing or body piercing equipment, sharing personal hygiene items with another infected individual such as razors, toothbrushes, scissors and nail clippers, by sharing contaminated drug-use items (i.e. needles), as well as unprotected sex and/or having multiple sexual partners. It is important to note that HBV is not spread by having casual contact with someone…such as kissing, hugging, shaking hands, or being around individuals who may be coughing or sneezing.
Taking preventive measures to avoid contracting HBV is important. In Canada, all Provinces offer free immunizations to children and certain groups of adults who may be at risk of developing HBV. The vaccine is routinely given to children in Grade 6 who have not yet been vaccinated. It is also typically recommended to children under the age of 12 whose families have emigrated from countries that have a high HBV risk rate and to individuals who have had multiple sexual partners or a recent sexually transmitted infection (commonly referred to as an STI), individuals with chronic liver disease, and health care practitioners who are at risk of coming into contact with blood or bodily fluids as a result of their job.
In acute cases, Hepatitis B will clear on its on – usually within 6 months of first contracting the disease. This means that you will no longer be infected with HBV and also will not put others at risk of developing it. However, in chronic cases, long-term treatment is required.
In order to manage symptoms associated with HBV, Vancouver physicians like Dr. Ali Ghahary focus on relieving the patient’s symptoms, preventing any complications that may arise, as well as preventing transmission of the disease.
To start, Dr. Ali Ghahary will monitor patients with blood tests to keep a close eye on the health of the liver. Medications such as Epvir, Hepsera, Tyzeka and Baraclude will also be prescribed. These are antiviral medications that help to slow down the progression of the virus. In severe cases, a liver transplant may be necessary.
To cope with the diagnosis of HPB, it is important to educate yourself on the disease. Speaking to your physician is always a great place to start, and there are various libraries around Vancouver and the surrounding area that will likely have books available on the disease. The Vancouver Infectious Disease Centre also offers support and educational tools on HBV and other acute and chronic diseases, including HIV and HCV.
If diagnosed with HBV you should ensure that you are taking care of your liver by avoiding alcohol consumption, ensure that you have a healthy diet, are getting regular exercise, as well as getting enough sleep.