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Hepatitis B virus referred to as HBV, reproduces in the liver causing inflammation and possibly cirrhosis or liver cancer. Symptoms may or may not be present. The older a person is likely to have symptoms, but only a blood test can determine the infection. Symptoms of Hepatitis may include; yellow skin, also known as jaundice; yellowing eyes; tiredness and or loss of appetite and nausea.
The World Health Organisation has estimated that over 350 million people worldwide are chronically infected with HBV. In many high-prevalence countries, 10% or more of the population has Hepatitis B. Areas where Hepatitis B is in high-prevalence include sub-Saharan Africa, most of Asia and the Pacific islands. The UK is a very low-prevalence country, but the prevalence of HBV varies across the country. The number of new infections per year has declined from an average of 260,000 in the 1980s to about 60,000 in 2004, where the highest rate of disease occurs in those aged between 20 and 49 The Greatest decline in this disease has happened among children and adolescents which is due to routine hepatitis B vaccinations being carried out.
Most reports of acute infection in the UK occur as a result of injecting drug use or sexual exposure. It is up to 100 times easier to catch Hepatitis B than HIV, as HBV can live outside of the body for at least 7 days and longer (sometimes up to 3 weeks depending on environmental conditions). 90% adults who contract hepatitis B clear the virus from their systems within a few months and develop immunity. Only about 10% become chronic this is where the virus stays in the blood, infecting liver cells and damaging them over time.
Hepatitis B is primarily spread by sexual contact with an infected person, but it can also be spread through sharing needles and or syringes used primarily for drug injection, from an infected mother to her baby during birth, or through exposures to sharp objects during work. However, still, like HIV, it is not spread by casual contact like handshakes, sharing food, doorknobs, sneezing, toilet seats, and swimming pools.
There is a vaccine available which is given in 3 doses over a period of 6 months. It is safe and effective. However, booster doses of hepatitis B vaccine are not recommended as Immune memory remains indefinitely following immunisation. Employees who work in professions such as the following and who can be exposed to bloodborne pathogens must have the HBV vaccine offered to them for free. Possible people who need the vaccine are those who; Administer first aid, Provide medical aid to students, Assist in bathroom care, Work in medical or dental offices, Perform custodial duties involving the cleaning and decontamination of surfaces that may be contaminated with blood and or other potentially infectious materials and finally, those who handle Regulated medical waste.