Hepatitis B is one of the most commonest diseases in the world but many of you may not have even heard of it. The World Health Organisation estimates that about 240 million people are still infected. So are you at risk? How is it passed on? How can you protect yourself?
First of all, what is hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B virus infects your liver and can cause long-term liver damage leading to a scarring of the liver known as cirrhosis and eventual liver failure. In some cases it can also cause liver cancer.
Where is hepatitis B most common?
As you can imagine, it is found throughout the world but it is particularly common in South- East Asia, the Indian subcontinent, Middle and Far East, Southern Europe and Africa. Even in Europe it is thought that 13 million people are living with hepatitis B, about 1 in 50 people. In the UK, we estimate there are approximately 180,000 cases, many of whom are completely unaware they have the infection.
How is it passed on?
The virus is a blood-borne virus meaning that it can be passed on from blood transfusions or blood products. You can also get infected through sex and a mother can pass the virus on to the baby during childbirth. If you inject street drugs, you are also particularly at risk.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms are often mild and you may not necessarily see a doctor. It can also be confused with flu. Some people lose their appetite, feel sick or pass pale, bowel motions and dark urine. The whites of the eyes and the skin may turn yellow commonly referred to as jaundice.
So who is at risk?
Anyone who might be exposed to blood and some bodily secretions might get infected with hepatitis B. This includes healthcare workers such as a doctors, nurses, dentists, dental assistants, laboratory workers and other healthcare professionals . Other people at risk are barbers, acupuncturists, tattoo artists, sewage workers and the police.
Do you participate in contact sports such as football and rugby? Then you may also become infected. Commercial sex workers and their clients and people who inject drugs are also vulnerable to hepatitis B infection.
So we now come to the two important questions:
Is hepatitis B curable?
Sadly, the infection is not usually curable but it can be controlled with tablets.
Okay, so can I at least prevent it?
Yes! It is entirely preventable with a safe, effective and easily available vaccine. Travel Klinix is a trusted health care provider led by experts in the field of infectious diseases. If you belong to any of the risk categories mentioned and would like to find out more on how to protect yourself from this devastating disease, give us a call on (024) 7601 6519 or alternatively book online through our website.
Dr Ravi Gowda
Consultant Infectious Diseases