Contributed by: Rachana Arya
Hepatitis, commonly known as liver inflammation, is one of the world’s most frequent infectious disorders. The virus has infected more than a third of the world’s population, with 350 million people infected on a long-term basis. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), almost 40 million individuals in India are infected with chronic Hepatitis B, and up to 12 million are afflicted with the disease.
There are five main types of hepatitis:
While it is clear that hepatitis B is a liver disease, there are various myths associated with its causes, symptoms, and treatment. Despite several public awareness programs, numerous factually incorrect misconceptions about the condition persist, but are they really true?
In our ‘Mythbusters’ series, we address and dispel some prevailing myths that are commonly associated with the condition.
Myth #1: Hepatitis B spreads by touching, coughing, and shaking hands
No. It cannot be transferred through casual contacts such as kissing, hugging, shaking hands, or sharing meals, water, bowls, or utensils with someone who is infected with hepatitis B. It is ONLY spread when body fluids from an infected person enter another through pricking, unprotected sexual contact, blood to blood contact, or from an infected mother to her child at birth.
The Hepatitis B virus can spread via the below means:
- Unprotected sexual contact
- From an infected mother to the fetus during pregnancy
- Body or ear piercing and tattooing with infected needles
- Sharing unsterile needles among drug addicts
Myth #2: People with hepatitis B have noticeable symptoms
For a majority of people, hepatitis B can be asymptomatic and go unnoticed for extended periods of time without manifesting any symptoms. Only 30% of those infected with the virus show any signs or symptoms, according to estimates. Furthermore, two out of every three people with hepatitis B are unaware of their infection. Those who do develop symptoms do so within 90 days of exposure. However, some people may display symptoms like:
- Dark-colored urine
- Tan-colored stools
- Mild fever
- Prolonged fatigue
- Poor appetite
- Pain in abdomen
- Nausea and vomiting
Myth #3: It is not safe to breastfeed if you have hepatitis B
Hepatitis B cannot be transmitted to the baby through breast milk, so breastfeeding is safe. The danger of mother-to-child transmission will be reduced if the newborn is vaccinated. That said, it is important to note that if you have cracked or bleeding nipples then there is a risk of hepatitis B transmission. However, if your baby has been vaccinated against hepatitis B, then they are protected from the low risk of transmission while nursing.
Myth #4: Hepatitis B is a genetically transmitted disease
There is a myth that hepatitis B is a genetically transmitted disease and, therefore, can pass from generation to generation. This is not true. While hepatitis B can’t be inherited from parents, pregnant women infected with HBV can spread the virus to their babies during childbirth. Nevertheless, such transmission from the mother to baby can be prevented by identifying the mother’s HBV (Hepatitis B virus) status and by vaccinating the newborn within the first 12 hours.
Myth #5: Hepatitis B is an untreatable disease
The illness is not curable, although it can be managed. Effective treatment and monitoring can help prevent chronic hepatitis B from developing. Because the virus is present in modest numbers in some persons, not everyone with chronic hepatitis B requires treatment. It is critical, however, that anyone with chronic hepatitis B sees a doctor for regular liver checks.
Myth #6: Hepatitis B is a rare condition and should not be taken too seriously
Hepatitis B is very serious. If left untreated, hepatitis can lead to serious health complications like:
- Acute hepatitis
- Chronic hepatitis
- Liver cirrhosis
- Liver failure
- Liver cancer
Acute hepatitis B normally resolves in a matter of weeks, therefore there is no need for therapy. Individuals are encouraged to get lots of rest, eat well, and drink plenty of fluids in this situation. Some people will need to be admitted to the hospital in severe circumstances. Antiviral medications are used to treat chronic hepatitis B, as well as routine screening for indicators of liver disease development.
Wrapping it up
It is important that people who are at risk of Hepatitis B visit their medical professionals and take a Hepatitis B blood test. The basic test for HBV infection is called the Hepatitis B Core IgM Antibody test, which will indicate the serological markers that show whether an individual is immune to, susceptible to, or infected with HBV.
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