Category Archives: Infections

Hepatitis B: Hepatitis B treatment

What is treatment of hepatitis?

Acute infection

Acute infection with hepatitis B usually does not require treatment. In rare cases, however, the infection may cause life-threatening liver failure. Patients with liver failure due to acute hepatitis B should be evaluated for liver transplantation. Small studies suggest that the drug lamivudine (Epivir) may be effective in this setting.

Chronic infection

If a person is chronically infected with hepatitis B and has few signs or symptoms of complications, medications usually are not used. These patients are watched carefully and are advised to go for certain blood tests. One test measures the ‘viral load,’ that is, the amount of viral DNA in the blood. Doctors will recommend treatment if there are signs that the virus is beginning to cause damage or if the viral load is high. Another reason to prescribe medication is if the patient has a positive test for the Hepatitis B e-antigen (HBeAg) in the blood. HBeAg is associated with an increased risk of progression of liver disease and its complications.

In chronic hepatitis B, the goal of treatment is to reduce the risk of complications including cirrhosis and liver failure. Tests like the viral load or liver function tests are used to evaluate if medicines are working. People who have large amounts of the virus in their blood are at highest risk to get cirrhosis. Up to one-third of people with very high viral loads (more than one million viral copies per milliliter of blood) will develop cirrhosis over a decade, compared to only 4.5% of those with low viral loads (less than 300 viral copies per milliliter). Continue reading

Hepatitis B: Hepatitis B tests

What are tests for Hepatitis B?

Infection with hepatitis B is suspected when the medical history and the physical examination reveal risk factors for the infection or symptoms and signs that are suggestive of hepatitis B. Abnormalities in the liver tests (blood tests) also can raise suspicion; however, abnormal liver tests can result from many conditions that affect the liver. The diagnosis of hepatitis B can be made only with specific hepatitis B virus blood tests. These tests are known as hepatitis ‘markers’ or ‘serology.’

Markers found in the blood can confirm hepatitis B infection and differentiate acute from chronic infection. These markers are substances produced by the hepatitis B virus (antigens) and antibodies produced by the immune system to fight the virus. Hepatitis B virus has three antigens for which there are commonly-used tests – the surface antigen (HBsAg), the core antigen (HBcAg) and the e antigen (HBeAg). Continue reading

Hepatitis B: Hepatitis B vaccine

How can we prevent hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a preventable disease. Vaccination and post-exposure prophylaxis have significantly reduced rates of infection. Risk can also be reduced by avoiding unprotected sex, contaminated needles, and other sources of infection.

How effective is vaccination for hepatitis B?

The hepatitis B vaccine contains a protein (antigen) that stimulates the body to make protective antibodies. Examples of hepatitis B vaccines available in the United States include hepatitis b vaccine-injection (Engerix-B, Recombivax-HB). Three doses (given at 0, 1, and 6 months) are necessary to assure protection. There are also combination vaccines on the market that provide protection against hepatitis B and other diseases. Continue reading