Hepatitis B is a serious liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV, or commonly referred to as hep B virus). When someone first contracts acute hepatitis B, they may not be aware of it as they may not experience any symptoms of the disease. For those who do exhibit symptoms, some of it include the following:
- Yellowing of the eyes or skin (jaundice)
- Pain in the right upper abdomen
- Poor appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dark coloured urine
- Pale coloured stool
Adults who suffer from acute hepatitis B usually recover, with recovery varying from weeks to months. That said, most individuals generally get better within six months and build up an immunity to the disease. However, 1 out of every 10 individuals who gets hepatitis B end up being a hepatitis B carrier. This means that they suffer from chronic hepatitis B (the infection has lasted for a duration of six months or longer) as their immune system cannot fight off the infection and thus they will carry the hepatitis B virus permanently in their bodies.
Over time, chronic hepatitis B carriers can develop serious liver problems such as liver cirrhosis (permanent scarring and hardening of liver), liver failure and liver cancer. At least 60% of liver cancers are caused by hepatitis B, and hepatitis B carriers are 100 times more likely to develop liver cancer than non-carriers. It is thus crucial for individuals to ensure early detection as the disease’s progression will result in irreversible liver damage.
Some symptoms of advanced liver problems that sufferers could experience include:
- Leg and abdominal swelling, and fluid build-up in the lungs
- Bruising or bleeding easily
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling full
It is important to note that hepatitis B carriers may be asymptomatic but can still pass on the virus to those around them.
How does someone get Hepatitis B?
If you have never been immunised or do not have antibodies against Hepatitis B from a previous infection, you are at risk of Hepatitis B infection.
While the hepatitis B virus is not spread through sneezing, coughing or sharing of food or utensils with an infected person, the few ways this infection can spread are through the mixing of bodily fluids with those belonging to the carriers. Some examples include:
- Unprotected sexual contact with someone who is a carrier
- Sharing of needles with someone who is a carrier, or through improperly sterilised sharp equipment
- Using infected needles for tattooing, acupuncture, or piercings
- Sharing toothbrushes, razors, or other personal items with someone who is a carrier
- From an infected mother to her newborn child during childbirth
- Contact with a carrier’s blood through cuts or sores in the mouth or skin
Is there a test for Hepatitis B?
A simple blood test will be able to determine whether you have hepatitis B. You may want to consult your doctor for advice if you belong to the high risk group.
Can I get protected from Hepatitis B?
Yes, you can be protected by getting yourself vaccinated. The hepatitis B vaccination is safe and comprises 3 doses administered over a period of approximately six months. (or you can disregard this and retain the table).
At the appointed date
1 month after 1st dose
5 months after 2nd dose
Can Medisave be used to pay for hepatitis B vaccination in Singapore?
Patients can use up to $500 from their own Medisave or that of their immediate family members (e.g. parents or spouse) for approved vaccinations of which hepatitis B is one. There is no deductible and co-payment for vaccination.
Publication: 11th September 2020