Symptoms and Diagnosis of Hepatitis B Infection

Hepatitis B infection is caused by hepatitis B virus (HBV), which is a serious infection of liver and fairly common infection in many parts of the world. The main danger of hepatitis B infection lies in the fact that, infection with hepatitis B virus can cause liver cancer or cirrhosis of liver, which may be several years after initial infection.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis B virus infection?

The symptoms of hepatitis B infection may be acute and chronic. Acute or short term hepatitis B infection may cause jaundice (yellow discoloration of eyes and skin), loss of appetites, diarrhea and vomiting, generalized weakness and tiredness. Acute symptoms also include pain in stomach, joints and muscles. The acute symptoms of hepatitis B infection are mainly seen among adults and may not be seen among children.

Chronic hepatitis B infection, may not have any symptoms, but may lead to death due to liver cirrhosis or liver cancer (known as hepatocellular carcinoma). Although chronic hepatitis B infection may have very few symptoms (if at all), it can spread the infection to others, by becoming chronic carriers. Chronic hepatitis B infection is more common in children in compare to adults.

Diagnosis of hepatitis B infection:

The diagnosis of hepatitis B infection mainly involve serum or blood assays for detection of virus antigens (proteins present in virus or produced by virus) or for detection of antibodies developed by host in response to hepatitis B infection.

Most commonly used diagnostic test for hepatitis B infection involves detection of Hepatitis B surface Antigen (HBsAg). There are some limitations of diagnosis of hepatitis B infection by detecting HBsAg, e.g. Hepatitis B surface Antigen may not be detectable (because antigen may not be present) in the early infection and later it may not be detectable because host defense may clear the antigen. After appearance of HBsAG, another virus antigen become detectable, i.e. HBeAg (hepatitis B e antigen), presence of which generally indicate higher infectivity.

In early hepatitis B infection it may be possible to detect only hepatitis B core antigen (HBcAG).

Presence of HBsAg for 6 months or more in an individual indicate carrier state for hepatitis B infection. Hepatitis B carriers are responsible for most of the hepatitis B infections. Hepatitis B carriers have elevated levels of ALT (Alanine aminotransferase) and liver inflammation (can be seen in liver biopsy). A chronic carrier who underwent seroconversion from HBeAg positive to HBeAg negative has very little risk of transmitting the infection to others.

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