Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver and is often caused by a virus, which comes in different strains. The most common strains of hepatitis are Hepatitis A, B, and C.
“Hepatitis A,B, and C, like all viruses, are contagious, but they differ mainly by the way they are spread,” says Stella Badalova, PharmD, Director of Healthcare Relations and Clinical Development at Medly Pharmacy. “Hepatitis B and C virus infections can become lifelong infections while Hepatitis A does not. There are vaccines to prevent hepatitis A and B only.”
Viral hepatitis symptoms are similar no matter which type of hepatitis you have and include the following:
Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
Loss of appetite
HBV, the virus that causes Hepatitis B, is found in blood and certain other body fluids. The virus spreads when blood or body fluid from an infected person enters the body of another person.
Methods of transmission include unprotected sex with an infected person, sharing needles, exposure to needle sticks or other sharp objects on the job, or from an infected mother to her baby during birth. Exposure to infected blood in ANY situation risks transmission.
The incubation period for Hepatitis B is 60 to 150 days, or an average of 90 days. Exposure to HBV can cause an acute infection within the first 6 months, leading to flu-like symptoms.
While there is no medication for recently acquired HBV infection, several antiviral medications are currently licensed for the treatment of individuals with chronic HBV. These drugs do not eliminate the virus but instead prevent serious liver problems. Liver transplant is a treatment of last resort.
“Treatment for Hepatitis B depends on if it is an acute or chronic diagnosis. If the doctor determines that the HBV is acute they will commonly recommend: rest, proper nutrition and fluids while the immune system fights the infection,” says Badalova.
“However, if the doctor determines that the HBV infection is chronic, the treatment will include antiviral oral medications such as entecavir (Baraclude) and tenofovir (Viread), which are the most common ones. The medication helps by fighting the virus and slowing the damage done to the liver by the virus.
“Another type of antiviral agent used to treat HBV is interferon, an injectable medication used to treat chronic forms of hepatitis. Unlike the oral therapy, which might have to be taken life-long, interferon is given for a specific duration. The PEGylated interferon (Pegasys) is a long acting interferon which is administered once a week for one year. However, only individuals who do not have cirrhotic liver are eligible for the interferon injection.”
People with chronic HBV infection should have a medical evaluation for liver disease every 6 to 12 months.
A vaccine for Hepatitis B is also available. In addition, there is a combination vaccine approved for adults that protects people from both hepatitis A and hepatitis B.
For more information, see our blog on the differences between Hepatitis A, B, and C.