Hepatitis B is an inflammation of the liver caused by infection with the hepatitis B virus. It is extremely contagious, even if the person who is infected displays no perceptible complaints.
How can you catch hepatitis B?
You can be exposed to the hepatitis B virus through contact with contaminated syringes and hypodermic needles, unsterillized medical instruments, uncontrolled blood products and donor organs, unsterillized tattoos, body and ear piercings or unprotected sexual contact. The virus can also be transmitted from a mother to a baby during pregnancy or childbirth.
Where can you catch hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B occurs all over the world, including the Netherlands. Regions in which there is a high risk (approximately 10% or more of the population infected) include sub-Saharan Africa, large regions of Asia and parts of the Amazon regio. Hepatitis B is also more prevalent than in the Netherlands in the former East Bloc countries of Europe, the coastal countries of the Mediterranean Sea and in the Middle East.
What are the symptoms?
A hepatitis B infection will run its course without any evident symptoms in approximately two thirds of cases. If someone with hepatitis B does have complaints these will, on average start between two and three months after infection. If there are complaints the disease can last anything between a few weeks to a few months. In a small percentage of cases the disease can last more than six months. People with chronic hepatitis B can pose a long-term infection hazard for others. The symptoms can vary from:
- Headache, a dull stomach ache, tiredness, loss of appetite and sometimes a slight temperature
- Sometimes hepatitis B can be accompanied by jaundice: your urine will be darker in colour, your faeces will be lighter and areas of your skin and the whites of your eyes can take on a yellowish hue. Jaundice is a result of a reduced liver function caused by the inflammation of the liver.
- In some cases chronic liver inflammation can develop and this can lead to severe liver damage in the long term.
How can you avoid catching hepatitis B?
A vaccination will give you long-term protection against hepatitis B. Vaccination is recommended for everyone who is exposed to a higher than average risk of catching hepatitis B, either through work, travel or sexual contact.