Hepatitis B is the most common chronic liver infection worldwide.
According to the World Health Organisation’s findings, an estimated 296 million people live with hepatitis B in 2019, with 1.5 million new infections per year, and a mortality rate of approximately 820,000 people.
In fact, viral hepatitis is ranked the seventh most common cause of mortality. In Singapore, it is estimated that one in 25 persons (~ four per cent) of the population has chronic hepatitis B infection.
What exactly is hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is caused by the hepatitis B virus, abbreviated as HBV. HBV spreads through blood, semen, open sores or wounds or other bodily fluids.
However, it cannot be spread to others by sneezing or coughing. Hepatitis B causes liver inflammation that can — if it persists — cause lasting liver damage.
For many people, hepatitis B is a short-term illness that goes away on its own after some time. For others, however, it can become a chronic condition.
Younger people, especially infants and children below the age of five, who are infected by HBV have a much higher risk of developing chronic hepatitis B.
People from certain regions in the world also carry a higher risk of developing chronic hepatitis B, including persons from Sub-Saharan Africa, the Pacific islands, the Middle East, as well as parts of Northeast and Southeast Asia.
Acute and chronic hepatitis B
Acute hepatitis B is a short-term illness that happens in the first six months after being infected by HBV. It is estimated that 90 per cent of persons infected with hepatitis B will be able to overcome the infection within six months.
In such cases, these persons also develop permanent immunity to hepatitis B. Generally, most healthy adults and children above five years of age are more likely to recover from acute hepatitis B.
If it persists for more than six months, then the acute condition has become chronic. Chronic hepatitis B lasts longer, maybe even throughout your lifetime, as the virus multiplies in the liver.
Chronic hepatitis B can cause severe inflammation and scarring of the liver, significantly impairing liver functions. There is also a risk of developing liver cancer or other health complications.
To make things more complicated, symptoms may not develop immediately up until you or your loved one develops liver-related complications.
There are also rare instances where hepatitis B recurs in people who have had it before, which also causes further liver-related complications.
Causes of hepatitis B