What is Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver caused by a virus infection. The virus causes destruction of the liver tissue and may lead to liver cancer later in life. In our country eight in every ten cases of liver cancer is due to Hepatitis B virus infection. Humans are the only known reservoir of this infection.

The threat to the community posed by hepatitis B is much more in comparison to HIV – the virus that causes AIDS. In fact, Hepatitis B is 100 times more infectious than AIDS and kills more people in a day than AIDS kills in a year.

Liver disease due to Hepatitis B infection is considered to be the fourth or fifth important cause of mortality in the most productive years of life. In fact, it is regarded as the second most important cancer-causing agent – next only to tobacco.

How does one get infected with Hepatitis B virus?

There are a millions of ‘carriers’ of the Hepatitis B virus, who appear to be normal and healthy but can transmit the virus to others. Various instruments contaminated with the infected blood or body fluids of such ‘carriers’ can transmit the virus to a healthy person. Thus the use of unsterilised needles for injections, ear piercing and tattooing, unsterilised instruments during operation or wound suturing and infected blood used during transfusion can put an individual at high risk of acquiring the Hepatitis B virus.

Is Hepatitis B infection a serious problem in India?

In India it is found that one in every twenty persons in our population is a Hepatitis B virus ‘carrier’. Accidental contacts with such ‘carriers’, who are unaware about the virus they are harboring, can transmit the virus to others. Hence a constant risk of acquiring this infection exists in our country.
But there is a definite group of individuals who are at high-risk. They are:

At high-risk due to daily practice:

  • All Medical Personnel.
  • All Para-medical personnel such as Nurses, Staff members of pathological labs, Blood banks,Dialysis units and Cancer units.
  • At high-risk due to sexual and social habits:
  • Heterosexuals with multiple sex partners, homosexuals and prostitutes.
  • Intravenous drug users.
  • People whom have themselves tattooed.
  • People who play contact sports.

At high-risk due to illness:

  • Patients like Thalassemics and Haemophiliacs who receive blood or blood related products.
  • Patients on dialysis.


  • Infants born to Hepatitis B infected mothers.
  • Family members of Hepatitis B virus ‘carriers’.
What are the signs and symptoms of Hepatitis B infection?

Majority of infants and children infected with Hepatitis B do not show any signs and symptoms of Hepatitis B infection.

In the case of adults, a small number of individuals may not show any signs and symptoms.

Others initially develop flu like symptoms such as:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Tiredness
  • Chills and mild fever
  • Body ache
  • And later Jaundice – yellowness of skin and eyes, Pale feces, Dark urine.
What test needs to be conducted to determine Hepatitis B status?

A simple blood test called the Australia antigen test will help determine whether one is infected with the Hepatitis B virus.

Is any treatment available for this infection?

Unfortunately no. Only vaccination against the Hepatitis B virus can prevent this infection. Recently interferons have been tried in certain selected patients of Hepatitis B and found to have variable results.

What is Hepatitis B vaccination?

The Hepatitis B vaccination course comprises of 3 injections to be given at definite intervals over a period of 6 months. After vaccination, the body will be able to produce substances called antibodies, which will protect against Hepatitis B infection.

What are the different Hepatitis B vaccines available in our country?

There are two types of Hepatitis B vaccines available:
Plasma derived– Manufactured using blood and blood-products and
Genetically engineered – where no blood and blood-products are used to manufacture this vaccine.

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