Hepatitis B Treatment
Once a Hep B (HBV) infection has developed in the body there is no treatment currently available which can eliminate the virus. From here on in, any treatment offered will aim at preventing the worsening of symptoms and at reducing the severity of any problems that the patient is already experiencing. The ultimate goal of any course of treatment is to prevent severe liver inflammation and cirrhosis.
Exposure to Hep B
Should you know or suspect that you’ve been exposed to the Hep B virus, and you haven’t been vaccinated against it, it is best to act very quickly since there’s a small chance that you can avoid the development of HBV in your system. An injection of hepatitis B immune globulin within 24 hours of coming into contact with the virus may stop HBV taking hold in your body. This should be followed by the first of three injections of the Hep B vaccine. In any case, should you ever be aware of having been exposed to Hep B, whether within 24 hours of the incident or not, you should seek medical help right away.
Acute Phase Treatment
Many people who contract Hep B will experience a period of acute illness which may, when it subsides, develop into a chronic (that is, long-term) Hep B infection. Many people live quite well with Hep B in their systems. Unfortunately, during the acute phase of Hep B, there is no treatment which can prevent chronic infection. Any treatment offered will seek to make the patient more comfortable and control the more dangerous symptoms such as dehydration. Basically, the patient will be told to rest, drink lots of fluids and take measures to prevent passing on the infection until the acute illness subsides. If the illness is severe, the patient may need to be hospitalised.
Chronic Phase Treatment
If a patient develops a long-term HBV infection, the type of treatment he’s given will depend on the severity of his symptoms, namely, the level of the activity of the virus in his body.
Slower onset – if tests show that the Hep B virus is multiplying slowly in the body, the patient may experience no symptoms at all and feel absolutely healthy. Patients in this condition, who have no or very little inflammation of the liver and show no other signs of illness, may require no treatment at all. Instead, the condition will be monitored via tests every six to 12 months to check on the health on the liver. Advice will be given on healthy diet and whether or not it is safe to drink alcohol. Patients in this condition may lead full and active lives, but they need to be constantly aware of the risks of infecting others with the virus and they must do everything possible to avoid this.
Faster onset – if tests show that Hep B is multiplying rapidly in a patient’s body and he is experiencing severe liver inflammation or showing signs of liver cirrhosis, medical treatment will be recommended. None of these anti-viral medications will eliminate the virus from the body – they can only control the symptoms and slow the replication of HBV in the body’s cells.
Interferon alfa or peginterferon alfa – these injections of a synthetic version of interferon, a substance naturally produced in the body, may help stimulate the patient’s immune system and help stop the Hep B virus multiplying in the body.
Lamivudine – these are pills which, like interferon, may help prevent the spread of HBV in the cells of the body.
Adefovir dipivoxil – these pills also help prevent the replication of Hep B in the body, and may be effective in patients who are resistant to lamivudine.
Not all these medications are suitable for all Hep B patients. Many of these drugs have side effects. Your doctors will advise you as to which medication is best for you. The drugs may prevent or reduce liver inflammation and damage.