Hepatitis B is an infectious inflammation of the liver that is triggered by the hepatitis B virus.
How is hepatitis B transmitted?
Hepatitis B is transmitted through contact with body fluids (especially blood and genital secretions) of infected persons, in most cases through sexual contact.
Infected mothers can transmit the disease to their child during delivery.
In the past, transmission by contaminated non-sterile syringes was common, but this is becoming increasingly rare in Switzerland.
What are its symptoms and its consequences?
Infected children under one year of age rarely develop any symptoms. The symptoms increase with age. In roughly one third of infected adults, non-specific general symptoms such as loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, stomach pains, sometimes also painful joints, fever or a skin rash, appear 45 to 180 days after infection. An additional one third develop jaundice (yellowing of the white of the eye and the skin). And one third don’t develop any symptoms. In most cases there is a spontaneous full recovery. However, 5% to 10% of persons who become infected as adults, and 90% of babies who are infected at birth, develop chronic hepatitis B, which can lead to cirrhosis of the liver or to liver cancer.
A cured hepatitis B infection confers immunity, which means that the affected person cannot be re-infected.
How is hepatitis B tested for?
A hepatitis B infection is usually diagnosed with a blood test.
How can the infection be prevented?
There is a vaccination against hepatitis B. The Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) recommends vaccination at infancy or, if not done at that time, at the latest between the ages of 11 and 15. The FOPH also recommends this vaccination for all who have an increased risk of infection. It is particularly important for persons working in the healthcare field as well as those with multiple sexual partners (hetero- or homosexual) and those who consume drugs. For questions regarding the risks, consult your doctor. Hepatitis B vaccination is covered by compulsory health insurance.
A hepatitis B test is done during the first trimester of a pregnancy. In case of an infection, measures can be taken to protect your child
How is hepatitis B treated?
Given the frequent incidences of spontaneous recovery, no specific treatment is generally recommended for adults with acute hepatitis B.
Chronic hepatitis B, however, is treated with antiviral drugs. Even though complete eradication of the hepatitis B virus is, in most cases, not possible with currently available drugs, at least its progress can be controlled. Lifelong treatment is often needed.
Should sexual partners get treatment as well?
The person concerned should consider, together with her or his physician, where the infection came from and whom it might already have been passed on to. Those sexual partners should get a medical exam.
In case of an infection, www.lovelife.ch provides tips on how to inform your partner.
Source: Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) 2022, lovelife.ch