What is Hepatitis B: Causes, Symptoms

Hepatitis B is a chronic inflammatory condition of the liver that is caused by infection with the Hepatitis B virus. The virus is highly infectious but also very preventable with the use of vaccination and other safe practices.

Let me tell you a little story about a friend:
Ben is a 27-year-old youth corper serving in Ondo state, Nigeria as an economics teacher in one of the secondary schools, a graduate of economics.
A very sociable person, he consumes alcohol almost every day right from when he was about 17 and started smoking at 21, it was his escape from the worries of life, coming from a poor background and having to struggle his way through life.

He had an illness when he was 6 years old, he barely remembers the details but he was told he had fever and his eyes turned yellow, he was treated in a small clinic back then and he recovered.

Six months into his service, he fell ill, he had progressively lost weight in the past one year and had a subtle dragging pain in right abdomen which he ignored, often dismissing it as typhoid and taking over-the-counter antibiotics and pain medications.

This however got worse, by his ninth month in service he had become too weak to work, his eyes had turned yellow and he had a mild persistent fever and constantly itching, thereby scratching his skin.

Could it be a repeat of the illness he had when he was five?
What actually did they say was wrong with him then?

He was taken to the general hospital by his friend Steve where he was admitted, stabilized and after series of tests was done, he was diagnosed with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) also known as primary liver cancer. He also tested positive for Hepatitis B Virus.

Ben has been carrying Hepatitis B virus all this time, but he never knew, the illness he had in his childhood was HBV and his lifestyle (of smoking and drinking) did not help his outcome.
Had he known about his condition, maybe he would have done better.

Is it entirely his fault?
What could the hospital that treated him in his childhood have done better?
What about his parents, what could they have done better?

This is the essence of our discussion today.
It is very important to pay attention to the doctor whenever he/she is talking to know what they say is wrong with you or your child/relation, because the same thing that was wrong with them could return later in the future, or even happen to somebody else, if it was a hereditary condition.

Table of Content

What is Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is and infection of the liver that causes Inflammation (swelling) of liver cells. It caused by one of the hepatotropic viruses (that is, the viruses that like to attack the liver). Other examples are hepatitis A, C, D, E, yellow fever virus etc.

Hepatitis B is a common medical condition in our environment, and one of the commonest sexually transmitted Infections that we have. See other Sexually Transmitted Infections here

How is Hepatitis B virus Spread?

HBV is transmitted through exposure to infected blood and bodily fluids (particularly semen and vaginal secretions). HBV survives for prolonged periods outside the body.
Although it has been detected in saliva, tears, breast milk, sweat, and urine, there is minimal evidence of transmission through exposure to these fluids where no blood is present, and breastfeeding has not been shown to increase risk of infection.

In highly endemic areas like Nigeria, HBV is most commonly transmitted from mother to child at birth, or through exposure to infected blood, especially from an infected child to an uninfected child during the first 5 years of life.

Major means of spread includes;

  • needle stick injury,
  • tattooing,
  • piercing and
  • exposure to infected blood and body fluids, such as menstrual, vaginal secretions or discharges, and seminal fluids and very importantly from poorly screened blood that is meant for transfusion.

Sexual transmission of hepatitis B is a major route of transmission especially in unvaccinated persons who have sex with commercial sex workers.

Transmission also occurs through the

  • reuse of needles and syringes especially among IV drug users.
  • medical, surgical and dental procedures.

Who Is at Risk of HBV Infection?

Certain persons have a higher risk of contacting HBV infection, either due to the nature of their jobs, or their habits. These include:

  • healthcare workers.
  • men who have sex with other men (homosexual).
  • people who use IV drugs.
  • people with multiple sex partners.

How Does It Affect The Liver?

A healthy liver is soft and flexible. After infection with hepatitis B however, the liver is constantly under attack by the virus and eventually it can become hardened over time leading to fibrosis which is scar formation resulting from the attempt by the liver to repair itself following the damage caused by the inflammation.
As the damage continues, aggregates of scar tissues gives rise to cirrhosis. Subsequently this could degenerate to liver failure and or cancer.

Symptoms Of Hepatitis B

Signs and symptoms of hepatitis B range from mild to severe. They usually appear about one to four months after infection, although they could start as early as two weeks after infection. Some people, usually young children, may not have any symptoms.

Hepatitis B signs and symptoms may include:
Abdominal pain/discomfort
Dark urine
Joint pain
Loss of appetite
Nausea and vomiting
Excessive weakness
Yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)

Hepatitis B

Some persons just like Ben, may not show any symptoms, until complications of chronic damage begins.

How do I Know if I Have Hepatitis B?

The diagnosis of hepatitis B is usually confirmed by doing a Hepatitis Test. The hepatitis test detects the presence of the hepatitis antigens or antibodies in the blood.

Click here for more information on Hepatitis Test, Cost and where to do this test in Nigeria.

Click Here to Read the Treatment, Complications and Prevention strategies for Hepatitis B.

Remember to Share this. Prevention is always better and Cheaper than cure.


  • Ogamba Paul Nzubechukwu attended the college of Medicine, University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, UNTH in Enugu State, Nigeria.

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