HBV, acronym for hepatitis B virus, is a liver ailment that is considered as serious in nature. While the condition may be short term in nature for a large number of patients, it is also possible that it could be chronic in nature for some patients. This in turn, could result in serious damage to the liver, that could pose complications for some. Recombinant hepatitis B vaccines are presently administered to offer patients immunity from the infection. Following sub sections offer a detailed look at the condition, its causes, preventive tips, apart from indepth details about the medication and possible Hepatitis B vaccine side effects. This is intended to help patients and family members stay aware of the undesirable outcomes and take suitable preventive or remedial actions.

About Hepatitis B virus and infection

Typically, adult patients with Hepatitis B make a full recovery, despite the onset of serious symptoms. The possibility of long-term infection is generally witnessed in children, who are known to end up with chronic infections. Vaccines offer immunity from the condition, but will not work if the infection is active. Patients who are diagnosed as having an active HBV infection are advised to follow suitable measures to prevent the condition from spreading.

What are the common symptoms that indicate an infection?

There are clear symptoms of hepatitis B that could indicate the possibility of an infection. This could be either mild in nature or the symptoms could also be severe in nature, and are known to develop after four weeks of the infection. In certain instances, the symptoms may be discernible in a fortnight also. It is also possible that certain patients may not exhibit or experience any symptoms whatsoever, despite being infected. Commonly reported symptoms include pain in the abdomen, while some are known to observe discoloration of urine. The color of urine may appear dark in color, and different from normal color of urine.

The patient may also experience pain in the joints, that may or may not be accompanied by low/high grade fever. Another common symptom is a clear lack of appetite in the individual, who may also experience sudden and abnormal fatigue. There is also the possibility of the patient experiencing a vomiting sensation, while some are known to only experience feelings of nausea. The color the skin may appear yellow, and distinctly different from normal complexion. A strikingly clear symptom is the change in the color of the whites of the eyes, consistent with known symptoms of jaundice.

How does the HBV spread?

As outlined above, Hepatitis B infection is due to an infection that spreads from an affected individual to others. The medium of spreading is through exchange of bodily fluids and blood. A common misconception is that sneezing and coughing can spread the infection, though this is wrong. The infection only spreads when an individual comes into contact with body fluids of an infected person – this includes blood and semen.

Under what circumstances can body fluids of a Hepatitis B patient infect another individual?

There are four different situations that can be broadly classified as being causes for infection through bodily fluids. This includes sexual intercourse, use of contaminated needles, from an infected pregnant mother to the newborn baby, and accidental contact by healthcare workers.

Individuals classified as high risk categories

From the above broad classification of possible routes of infection, it is easy to draw conclusions about possible risk categories. Individuals who are in the habit of having unprotected sex, individuals with multiple partners and individuals dating someone with hepatitis B are at risk of infection. This is because of the possibility of coming into contact with contaminated blood, or saliva or semen of infected individual(s).

Similarly, individuals who are addicted to drugs and who are in the habit of sharing needles for a fix are at risk of contracting HBV. Individuals in this category are at higher risk of infections, because most drug addicts are known to share needles, especially, when there is need for a quick fix or a high. Men who are sexually oriented towards having anal intercourse with other men are at higher risk of contracting HBV, and it is therefore necessary for individuals in this category to receive vaccination and protect themselves from the risk of infections.

Pregnant women with the infection are likely to spread the infection to the newborn child, and it is therefore imperative for women planning a pregnancy to seek medical advice and receive vaccination on time. Health care workers are at risk of coming into contact with contaminated products and blood of patients with Hepatitis B. It is therefore necessary for healthcare workers to be fully aware of the circumstances, and take suitable precautions to prevent accidental contact. Travellers to certain hotspots of infection are also at risk of contracting the infection. Certain geographical regions are known to have high prevalence rates of infection; such as certain areas in Asia, Eastern part of Europe, certain locations in Africa and the Pacific Islands.

What are the long-term implications of hepatitis B?

Left untreated, hepatitis B infections can result in serious or adverse conditions. It is therefore necessary for patients and family members to ensure that suitable treatment is extended to the patients to prevent adverse outcomes. For instance, the ailment can result in possible cirrhosis of the liver. This refers to inflammation in the liver, and is also known as scarring of the liver. Patients with the condition experience reduced liver functioning, and this impacts overall health.

Other long term effects of hepatitis B include possible cancer of the liver. This is not a common occurrence, though the risk of ending up with liver cancer is high among patients with chronic hepatitis B. Another serious condition that is a cause for concern is possible liver failure that may occur as a result of the condition. In such instances, the patient may have to choose a lover transplant as the liver loses the ability to function as a vital organ of the body. The next serious condition is possible renal complications, as hepatitis B may cause severe kidney disease. As a vital organ, damage to the kidneys could be extremely serious in nature, and may require extensive, expensive treatment.

Simple tips to prevent possible hepatitis B infections

The ideal method to be protected from the infection is to be immunized with the vaccine. The injections are typically given as two doses, a month apart, while a different form of the vaccine may be administered in four doses over a period of six months. Individuals identified as high-risk categories mentioned above, need to be administered the vaccines on time, as recommended. In addition to the vaccines, it will always help to practice certain methods to considerably reduce the possibility of infections. This includes avoiding al unprotected sex, with the exclusion of indulging in sex with a known partner. It is best to know the health status of a partner in some form, to remain unaffected from certain communicable diseases.

In the event of circumstances preventing an individual from ascertaining the health of partners, the next best option is to use barrier methods of contraceptives to prevent infections. Remember, this is considered as the next best option, and not the best option, because, it can only reduce the risk, but not eliminate risk fully.  Individuals on drugs are to stay away from the habit, for many reasons, with prevention of hepatitis B being one among the many reasons. Individuals in the habit of getting themselves pierced or tattooed are advised to insist on use of sterile needles. This will prevent infections, as there is the likelihood of being infected due to contaminated needles. Finally, preventive measures for travelers includes the need for taking the necessary hepatitis B booster dose prior to travelling abroad, especially countries that are known to have high incidence rates. It would always help to receive the dose, regardless of destination, as there is a possibility of unplanned changes, and it helps to be prepared.

Vaccine overview

Vaccination against viral hepatitis B is typically through recombinant vaccine, which works by triggering the immune system of the body to produce antibodies to protect against the disease.  Vaccination is essential for infants, and children up to the age of 19, apart from individuals categorized as high risk above. The vaccine is available as a suspension and is administered as an injection. The vaccine is administered in the muscles, in a three-dose hepatitis b immunization schedule, with the second dose given one month after the first, and the third dose, six months after the first dose. For patients with bleeding problems, the vaccine is typically given under the skin, while the doses are the same.

Precautions that need to be taken prior to vaccination

It is necessary for individuals desirous of taking the vaccine to take certain precautions. For instance, it is necessary to intimate the doctor of any past allergic reactions, either to the vaccine itself, or to other drugs/vaccines. This includes allergies to food products, animal dander, dyes and preservatives used in food products.

Unfounded apprehensions 

Various misconceptions have been circulated about the vaccine and these unfounded apprehensions have confused individuals, who eventually avoided getting immunized. For instance, many are led to believe that the vaccine contains human blood or products from human blood. However, the vaccine does not contain human blood or products. The vaccine is not known to have a lesser impact in terms of effectiveness on pediatric patients, and is generally safe to use, barring the usual Hepatitis B vaccine side effects. Similarly, the vaccine is not known to significantly adversely affect elderly patients, and will carry more or less similar effectiveness as other patients. Finally, the risk of any untoward outcomes is negligible in breast feeding mothers, and would not pose a serious risk to the suckling infant.

Interactions with other medications and supplements

All drugs come with the possibility of interacting with certain/specific formulations. For instance, two or more medications may interact with each other due to the conflict in mechanisms of action or due to the properties of the medications. Vaccines are no different and there is a possibility of interactions when taken with other medications or products. This could include over the counter products, supplements, herbal products, alternative medicine, alcohol and intoxicating substances. The vaccine is likely to interact with medications that are recommended for lupus. It may also interact with anti-malarial drugs such as chloroquine.  It may also interact with medications administered after an organ transplant.

Recipients of organ transplants are typically given medications to suppress the immune system to prevent organ rejection. This in turn may affect the efficacy of the vaccine.

Avoid use when diagnosed with certain conditions

When patients have been diagnosed with certain conditions, it is advisable to avoid vaccination. Or instance, individuals with a history of hemophilia are not to be administered the vaccine. The condition, which refers to bleeding issues, could expose the patient to risk of increased bleeding. Similarly, patients diagnosed with multiple sclerosis are also not to be administered the vaccine as this could aggravate the condition. Patients with a severe illness are also advised to put off the vaccination till the illness subsides.

Commonly reported undesirable outcomes from hepatitis B vaccine

Undesirable outcomes or effects of medicines are common to all drugs, and hepatitis B vaccine is no exception. The types of effects may either be moderate or adverse. While the vaccine has undergone adequate testing to determine safety and efficacy, a small section of recipients of the vaccine are likely to end up with unwanted effects. Contraindications of hepatitis B vaccine that are a cause for concern are allergic reactions such as anaphylaxis, which is a life-endangering condition, that needs urgent intervention. Symptoms that are indicative of this condition include rashes, itching sensation and possible difficulty in breathing.

Other possible effects include high grade fever, possible pain in the joints, and impact on vision of the individual after receiving the vaccine. Dizzy feelings, confused state of mind and weakness in the muscles are other possible outcomes from the vaccine. A distinct numb feeling in the arms and legs may also be experienced by some individuals. Sweating and swelling may also be experienced by some. Certain effects are relatively mild and do not require medical attention. For instance, soreness and reddish appearance at the site of injection or the formation of a lump or tenderness at the site of injection are not a cause for worry.

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