I was found with the Hepatitis B virus. It was a very scary moment for me and I am still wondering how I got infected with it. I am 4 months pregnant. Does it mean I will pass it on to my baby? How can I treat it and how long does it take to cure? How does it spread? Thank you for always responding to our questions.
Mary Uwera, 27, Nyarutarama
You have not specified why you have been tested for Hepatitis B. Was it a routine screening during pregnancy or was it due to some sickness?
Hepatitis B is a condition of injury or inflammation of the liver caused by the Hepatitis B virus. This virus is transmitted among people by body fluids, contaminated syringes and needles, blood or blood products. Hair cutting salons and beauty parlors where tools used are not sterilized also become a source of infection of Hepatitis B.
Unprotected sexual intercourse is one of the most common modes of acquiring and transmitting infection. Those suffering from HIV/AIDS are more prone to acquire Hepatitis B and in a more severe form.
After being infected with Hepatitis B, one may develop symptoms of liver damage like loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, yellow discoloration of eyes, generalised itching e.t.c. Gradually, the illness can progress to chronic damage of liver cells resulting in hepatic cirrhosis and even carcinoma of the liver.
Death can occur due to acute liver failure at acute stages. The virus can also damage kidney, muscles and joints. Some individuals do not develop symptoms after being infected with Hepatitis B, but still carry the virus and are capable of infecting others.
Diagnosis of this infection is by means of serology tests which detect antibodies to the virus in the serum.
During pregnancy, this virus is transmitted to the foetus through the placenta. The result can be low birth weight baby. The child born may become a chronic carrier of hepatitis B and is prone to develop cirrhosis of liver and hepatocellular carcinoma later on.
Preventive measures include use of sterilized tools for any pricks or cuts and safe sexual practices. Once somebody is infected, treatment is effective when started early by antiviral drugs like lamivudine and or interferon. Contacts of a patient are protected by means of vaccination against Hepatitis B.
Neonates born to infected mothers are protected by means of injection of Hepatitis B immune globulin and active vaccination. You should also get yourself tested for HIV/AIDS infection. Treatment for Hepatitis B is available at King Faisal hospital.
Dr. Rachna Pande
Specialist-Internal medicine Ruhengeri Hospital