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What is Hepatitis B?
The word hepatitis is indicative of inflammation of the liver. There are 3 types of Hepatitis infections, namely hepatitis A, B and C. Hepatitis B affects thousands of people worldwide.
Hepatitis B is a deadly virus that causes inflammation of liver. Pregnant women are especially at risk as this virus can be transmitted to the baby in the womb. The woman is also at risk of having premature birth of the baby.
Symptoms of Hepatitis B
According to estimates, around 30% of the people who have had an encounter with the virus will not show any symptoms. The other symptoms could be confused with common infections like food poisoning or flu. If you have suffered with hepatitis B, you will become a carrier of the HBV, without showing any symptoms. The signs of having a HBV infection include:
How does Hepatitis B spread?
The virus spreads from one infected person to another by sexual activity or by coming in contact with an infected person’s blood. The virus can be transmitted from a mother to a baby as well. Many people who have been tattooed with dirty needles or addicts who use intravenous drugs are exposed to this virus.
How is the baby affected?
If the baby comes in contact with the mother’s infected blood during pregnancy or delivery, the virus is transmitted to the baby as well. This type of transmission is called perinatal transmission. The hepatitis B infection increases the chances of preterm birth. Also, low birth weight of baby is another issue. Majority of infected babies become chronically infected, which has a number of complications of the liver, and could be fatal.
What can be done to protect the baby?
In most countries, it has become a standard procedure to perform a test for hepatitis B during the pregnant woman’s first scheduled visit to the doctor. All pregnant women can go through a blood test during their first trimester to know if they are infected.
If you are found a carrier of the virus, special care will be taken of you and your baby to eliminate the possibility of the baby being infected. There are diet and other changes to be made to the general lifestyle of the mother. There will be special appointments to keep a check on your health in the following months.
To reduce the risk of infection to the baby, he/she is washed immediately after delivery. After all traces of the mother’s blood have been removed, the baby will be given the vaccine for hepatitis B immediately and the immune globulin for hepatitis B. These precautions are considered essential to protect the baby from developing any serious liver infection at a later stage. Also, if the baby has been vaccinated and given another shot known as H-BIG, breastfeeding does not pose any danger to the baby.
Currently, there are no medicines available to cure Hepatitis B. If you are found infected, the disease cannot be cured. However, medications are available to reduce the damage to your liver by slowing down the activity of the virus. You must consult your doctor to prescribe the right course of treatment to you, as many effective drugs used against HBV are not considered safe for the foetus.
Apart from taking the precautions, the only sound way of keeping yourself protected is to get vaccinated. A vaccine against the hepatitis B virus is considered both safe and highly effective. Vaccination is recommended to the high risk women as well as the infants born from infected mothers.