Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
Hepatitis B and
What are chronic hepatitis B and
chronic hepatitis C?
Hepatitis B and C are similar kinds of liver
infection that are caused by viruses. Chronic hepatitis B and C are long-term
infections of the liver that develop after a bout of acute hepatitis.
How does a person get hepatitis B or
Hepatitis B or C can be caught in different
ways. Hepatitis B and hepatitis C are spread by contact with infected blood or
other body fluids of people who have hepatitis B or C infection. For example,
you can get hepatitis B and C by having sex with an infected person.
People who use intravenous drugs can get
hepatitis B or C when they share needles with someone who has the virus. Health
care workers, such as nurses, lab technicians and doctors, can get these
infections if they are accidentally stuck with a needle that was used on an
What are the symptoms of acute
hepatitis B or C?
Symptoms of hepatitis B or C include headache,
nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, jaundice (the skin turns yellow), weakness and
fatigue. Bowel movements may be gray in color. The urine may be dark and look
Sometimes, though, hepatitis is a mild illness.
If you have a mild case of hepatitis, you may not even realize that you have it.
It may not cause symptoms or may only cause symptoms similar to the stomach flu.
You might think you have the flu, and not know you have hepatitis.
What is the difference between acute
and chronic hepatitis?
When you are having symptoms, hepatitis is in
the acute stage. The acute stage can last from several weeks to several months.
In some people, hepatitis B or C becomes an illness that lasts a long time, a
condition called chronic hepatitis. Other people recover from the infection and
have no long-lasting problems.
After a person has recovered from acute
hepatitis, chronic hepatitis can set in. Chronic hepatitis occurs when the liver
has been damaged from the acute illness and doesn't recover. Chronic hepatitis
develops in 10% to 20% of people who have hepatitis B and in 30% to 50% of
people who have hepatitis C.
Are there any symptoms with chronic
hepatitis B or C?
People with chronic hepatitis B or C may not
have any symptoms at all. But in some people, chronic hepatitis can lead to
cirrhosis of the liver. Cirrhosis occurs when the liver cells die and are
replaced by scar tissue and fat. The liver stops working and can't cleanse the
body of wastes. People in the early stages of cirrhosis may not have symptoms.
When cirrhosis gets worse, symptoms begin. They may include weight loss,
fatigue, jaundice, nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite. Cirrhosis can lead to
liver failure (the liver stops working) and liver cancer.
How long does it take chronic
hepatitis to develop after acute hepatitis?
The time between the acute illness and signs of
chronic hepatitis varies. It may take a short time, or it may take years after
the acute infection before chronic hepatitis develops.
How is chronic hepatitis diagnosed?
Blood tests are used to diagnose chronic
hepatitis B and C. Blood tests can also tell your doctor whether your liver is
working properly. They can also be used to follow your condition during
Your doctor may also want to look at your liver
with an ultrasound exam and x-rays. A liver biopsy may also be needed. With a
liver biopsy, a small piece of the liver is removed through a needle and looked
at under a microscope. A liver biopsy may help your doctor find out what is
wrong with your liver.
How are chronic hepatitis B and C
Interferon alfa-2b (brand name: Intron A) is
used to treat chronic hepatitis B or C. This drug helps the immune system fight
the hepatitis virus. Treatment with interferon alfa-2b is successful in many
patients with chronic hepatitis B or C.
Interferon alfa-2b is given as a shot. The shots
may be given every day, every other day, or 3 times a week. Lamivudine (brand
name: Epivir) is another medicine used to treat hepatitis B or C. It is given as
a pill. Treatment may last for a number of months. The length of treatment
depends on how severe the chronic infection is. To increase your chance of
recovering from chronic hepatitis, it is important to complete the entire course
Are there side effects from
Yes, there may be side effects from this drug.
The most common side effects are flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache,
fatigue, nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite. You can reduce the side effects
by taking the drug right before bedtime. The longer interferon alfa-2b is taken,
the more likely that the side effects will go away. Your doctor can give you
advice about what you can do to relieve some of the side effects.
Can hepatitis B or C be prevented?
The best way to prevent hepatitis B or hepatitis
C is to avoid sharing needles and having unprotected sex (without a condom).
A vaccine is available to prevent hepatitis B.
This vaccine should be given to people who are at high risk for this illness,
such as health care workers, all children, drug users, people who get tattoos or
body piercing, prostitutes and homosexuals with multiple sex partners. No
vaccine is available for hepatitis C.