Close contact with infected individuals and their bodily fluids can lead to contraction of the HBV. This includes sexual contact with an infected partner in which exposure to saliva, blood, semen, or vaginal secretions enter the body. Additionally, casual contact in the form of open sores or cuts can lead to infection.
Hepatitis B virus can be spread by exposure to infectious blood. This includes perinatal transmission, which means a mother can pass the virus to the fetus during childbirth. Additionally, accidental needle sticks contaminated with infected blood are another source of transmission.
IV drug abusers are increased risk of contracting hepatitis B, as the virus is easily transmitted through needles and syringes contaminated with infected blood.
The incubation period for hepatitis B is quite variable with a range of 1-6 months (45-180 days), with an average of 56-96 days. Patients are infectious for 4-6 months and carriers continue to be infectious for life.
Manifestations of hepatitis B often resemble flu-like symptoms and often don’t appear until the individual has had the virus for a couple weeks. A low-grade fever may be present.
The individual may experience nausea and vomiting, as well as generalized weakness and fatigue, and loss of appetite.
Symptoms of hepatitis B are rarely severe unless there is underlying liver failure. Some patients may experience hepatomegaly, or swelling of the liver beyond normal.
Approximately 10 percent of individuals infected with the HBV, usually immunosuppressed individuals, can develop chronic hepatitis B. Chronic hepatitis B may eventually cause cirrhosis (scarring of the liver).
Chronic hepatitis B may also cause hepatocellular carcinoma or liver cancer.
Hepatitis B is preventable by vaccination. The incidence of HBV infection has decreased significantly due to the widespread use of the HBV vaccine.
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