Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, and it comes in numerous forms such as hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. Often caused by viruses, hepatitis infections cause damage and impedes the normal functions of the liver. Although all hepatitis types affect the liver, they differ in the viruses that cause them and the effects they have.
Hepatitis B is one of the more common types of liver inflammation. The estimated prevalence of chronic hepatitis B infection in Singapore is about 3-4%. In adults, most hepatitis B infections recover by itself within a few weeks. In fact, many cases go undetected because of the lack of symptoms. However, in some cases, especially in young children, hepatitis B may progress into a chronic infection, and cause long-term health effects like liver damage, cirrhosis, or liver cancer.
Symptoms of hepatitis B
With such an elusive infection having such great potential to harm the body, it is crucial to get an idea of how to tell if you have been infected with hepatitis B. Unfortunately, some hepatitis B patients don’t experience any symptoms at all, or exhibit flu-like symptoms that are easily dismissible. In countries with high hepatitis B prevalence, hepatitis B screening is recommended as part of the health screening.
If there are any symptoms at all, a person affected by hepatitis B may experience signs such as:
- Yellowing of the skin and eye whites (jaundice)
- Pale coloured stools
- Dark coloured urine
- Fatigue and lethargy
- Stomach pain
- Poor appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
Symptoms, if any, typically occur between 2 to 5 months after exposure to the virus. Acute conditions usually last for a few weeks.
Risk factors for hepatitis B
Knowing when you have been placed in a vulnerable situation that increases your risk is another way to be on guard against hepatitis B. Along with your awareness of possible exposure, you can suspect a hepatitis B infection, especially if the symptoms begin 2 to 5 months after exposure.
Here are some situations that put people at higher risk of contracting hepatitis B:
- Accidental pricks from used needles (e.g. injection syringes)
- Sharing of unsanitary needles (e.g. tattoo needles)
- Sexual contact with infected persons
- Infants born to infected mothers
- Direct contact with blood or open wounds of an infected person
Hepatitis B does not spread through sharing of food or water, eating utensils, coughing, sneezing, and other forms of skin-to-skin contact like hugging, holding hands, or kissing. Different hepatitis types are transmitted differently as well, so it’s important not to get confused.
Testing for hepatitis B
While looking out for symptoms and risk exposure are vital steps in spotting a possible hepatitis B infection, the only way to confirm an infection is to get tested for it. If you have observed any symptoms and have recent suspected exposure to the virus, it is best to visit a doctor to receive a blood test.
There are a few different blood tests used to detect the hepatitis B virus. Make sure to consult with your doctor about the options before making the most appropriate choice.
Guarding against hepatitis B requires vigilance in looking out for symptoms, risk exposure, and taking action to receive testing. That way, you can be assured of receiving timely and suitable care to keep the infection under control.