Hepatitis B & C

What is Hepatitis B & C

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a virus spread through the blood and bodily fluids of an infected person. Many people do not realise they have been infected with the virus, because symptoms may not develop immediately, or at all.

The hepatitis B virus can then go on to cause a chronic (long-term) illness, which follows the acute infection. This is very common if babies or children contract the virus, but can also occur in adults.

If you develop chronic hepatitis B, you may remain well, but you can pass on the virus (you’re a carrier). Symptoms may come and go, or you may develop serious liver damage.

There are approximately 2000 million people infected and 300 million carriers of the virus, worldwide.

The virus is present in body fluids such as blood, saliva, semen and vaginal fluid. It can be passed from person to person, through unprotected sex (without using a condom) and sharing needles to inject drugs.

Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C is a blood-borne viral infection. Rarely it can also be passed on through other body fluids. Drug users sharing needles are particularly at risk. Anyone whose blood has come into contact with the blood of someone infected with the hepatitis C virus is also at risk.

 

Symptoms of Hepatitis B & C

Hepatitis B

Many people do not have any symptoms if they contract hepatitis B, although they can still pass the virus on to others. Other people will have some symptoms, similar to those of hepatitis A. Common symptoms include:

  • Flu-like symptoms (tiredness, general aches and pains, headaches and fever)
  • Loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Jaundice occurs because your inflamed liver is unable to remove bilirubin (a substance in the blood). This causes your skin and the whites of your eyes to become yellow. It may also turn your urine very dark bowel motions become pale. Jaundice can also cause itching.
  • Abdominal pain
  • Very rarely, a serious acute hepatitis occurs (called fulminant hepatitis B). Symptoms include collapse, severe yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice) and swelling in the abdomen. It can be fatal if not treated quickly

Many people who acquire Hepatitis B as adults will clear the infection and become immune. However the disease is said to be ‘chronic’ when you have been infected for longer than six months. Some people are carriers, have no symptoms and remain healthy and will eventually clear the virus from their bodies. They may not know they are affected. Others (especially babies and children) will have periodic symptoms, similar to the acute stage (fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain, weight loss and jaundice) and may go on to develop irreversible scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) and may eventually develop liver cancer.

Hepatitis C

Most people do not experience any symptoms when they first become infected with hepatitis C. There may be vague flu-like symptoms including fatigue, loss of appetite, joint pains and nausea some weeks after being infected.

In approximately 20% of people the virus is cleared from the body by the immune system within six months. For others, the virus remains active (chronic hepatitis C), but may not cause any symptoms throughout their life or for many years. During this time you can however pass the virus on to others by sharing needles etc.

Some infected people remain well throughout their life and develop no damage or problems to the liver. Others with chronic hepatitis C will develop some symptoms of liver damage such as:

  • weight loss
  • muscle aches
  • tiredness
  • nausea
  • alcohol intolerance
  • pain over the liver
  • jaundice

      Jaundice can causes your skin and the whites of your eyes to become yellow. It may also turn your urine very dark and your stools (faeces) may become pale)

      Approximately 20% of those with chronic hepatitis C infection develop cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) over a period of about 20-30 years. A few of those people then go on to develop liver cancer or complete liver failure.

Testing for Hepatitis B & C

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B can be detected by a blood test that will show a positive reaction to the antibodies (your body makes antibodies to try and fight the hepatitis B virus).

Hepatitis C

A blood test can detect antibodies to the hepatitis C virus and a positive test shows that you have been infected. Your body normally makes antibodies to try and fight the hepatitis C virus. However the test will not show a positive reaction for some months after being infected as your body will take time to make these antibodies. Also, this test may remain positive even if you have cleared the virus from their body.

Both hepatitis B and C results would be given next day by telephone. Those requiring vaccination would be vaccinated with first dose next day.

Rapid Tests

Rapid tests for both Hepatitis C and Hepatitis B are now available, with the results available within 20 minutes.

Treatment of Hepatitis B & C

active infection, you will be advised to have regular blood tests and physical check-ups.

However if you develop chronic hepatitis, treatment may involve an antiviral medication called interferon. It may help to prevent the virus causing more liver damage. Interferon is given by injection once a week for around six months. You may be taught to inject yourself.

Interferon often produces side effects (flu-like symptoms), especially in the early stages of treatment. You will need to be monitored regularly for these side effects by your doctor. Anti-viral tablets may also be prescribed

Hepatitis C
Increasingly effective treatments for hepatitis C are available and can clear the virus in approximately half those treated. The treatment is usually with a combination of two drugs, interferon and ribavirin. Even if the treatment does not clear the virus, it may still slow down the progression of inflammation and liver damage. Treatment usually lasts for six or twelve months.

The medicines used to treat hepatitis C can have a number of side effects, which are often worse at the beginning of treatment. These side effects may be intolerable for some people. These include flu-like symptoms, such as tiredness, headaches and aches and pains. Other side effects may include nausea, depression, and skin rashes.

The medicines are not suitable if you have certain other medical conditions, are pregnant or drink a lot of alcohol.

 

Prevention of Hepatitis B & C

Hepatitis B

There is often no specific treatment for acute hepatitis B. Relief of symptoms, rest, a healthy diet and no alcohol may be advised. Many people either are symptom-free or recover completely within a couple of months and do not go on to develop chronic hepatitis. If you are diagnosed as having an active infection, you will be advised to have regular blood tests and physical check-ups.

However if you develop chronic hepatitis, treatment may involve an antiviral medication called interferon. It may help to prevent the virus causing more liver damage. Interferon is given by injection once a week for around six months. You may be taught to inject yourself.

Interferon often produces side effects (flu-like symptoms), especially in the early stages of treatment. You will need to be monitored regularly for these side effects by your doctor. Anti-viral tablets may also be prescribed

Hepatitis C

Increasingly effective treatments for hepatitis C are available and can clear the virus in approximately half those treated. The treatment is usually with a combination of two drugs, interferon and ribavirin. Even if the treatment does not clear the virus, it may still slow down the progression of inflammation and liver damage. Treatment usually lasts for six or twelve months.

The medicines used to treat hepatitis C can have a number of side effects, which are often worse at the beginning of treatment. These side effects may be intolerable for some people. These include flu-like symptoms, such as tiredness, headaches and aches and pains. Other side effects may include nausea, depression, and skin rashes.

The medicines are not suitable if you have certain other medical conditions, are pregnant or drink a lot of alcohol.

Complications from Hepatitis B & C

Hepatitis B

About 90-95% of people who are infected with the hepatitis B are able to fight off the virus so their infection never becomes chronic.

The earlier the disease is acquired, the greater the chance of developing chronic infection. Infants have a 90% chance, children have a 25-50% chance and adults have an approximately 5% chance of developing chronic disease.

People with chronic hepatitis B infection are called chronic carriers. Approximately two-thirds of these people with chronic infection do not themselves get sick or die of the virus, but they are carriers and can transmit it to other people.

The remaining one third develop a disease of the liver, which can be very serious. Many will develop cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) When this happens, the liver can no longer carry out its normal functions and liver failure occurs. The only treatment for liver failure is liver transplant.

Chronic hepatitis B is also associated with and increased risk of developing liver cancer. About 15-25 percent of people with chronic hepatitis B die of liver disease.

Hepatitis C

Of those people with chronic hepatitis C, approximately 20% will develop cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver within 10-30 years. When this happens, the liver is excessively damaged and can no longer carry out its normal functions and liver failure occurs. The only treatment for liver failure is liver transplant. Alcohol consumption increases the likelihood of progression of to cirrhosis.

I May Have Hepatitis B or C

If you have any concerns relating to this condition, or any conditions described on this website, please contact the Sunshine Clinic by telephone to arrange an appointment with Dr Sood,


on 0845 505 0552


or use the contact form    Contact

Dr Prabhat Sood

Consultant Physician
Genitourinary and HIV Medicine

24 Hour appointment booking service

0845 505 0552

Weekend Appointments Available

Sunshine Clinic

West Midlands Hospital
Colman Hill
Halesowen
West Midlands
B63 2AH