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Hepatitis B | Understanding and definition of Hepatitis B | Symptoms and treatment of Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is an infectious illness caused by hepatitis B virus (HBV) which infects the liver of hominoidea, including humans, and causes an inflammation called hepatitis. Originally known as "serum hepatitis", the disease has caused epidemics in parts of Asia and Africa, and it is endemic in China. About a quarter of the world's population, more than 2 billion people, have been infected with the hepatitis B virus. This includes 350 million chronic carriers of the virus. Transmission of hepatitis B virus results from exposure to infectious blood or body fluids such as semen and vaginal fluids, while viral DNA has been detected in the saliva, tears, and urine of chronic carriers with high titer DNA in serum. However, Hepatitis B viruses cannot be spread by casual contact, such as holding hands, sharing eating utensils or drinking glasses, breast-feeding, kissing, hugging, coughing, or sneezing.
The acute illness causes liver inflammation, vomiting, jaundice and rarely, death. Chronic hepatitis B may eventually cause liver cirrhosis and liver cancer—a fatal disease with very poor response to current chemotherapy. The infection is preventable by vaccination.

Hepatitis B virus is an hepadnavirus—hepa from hepatotrophic and dna because it is a DNA virus—and it has a circular genome composed of partially double-stranded DNA. The viruses replicate through an RNA intermediate form by reverse transcription, and in this respect they are similar to retroviruses. Although replication takes place in the liver, the virus spreads to the blood where virus-specific proteins and their corresponding antibodies are found in infected people. Blood tests for these proteins and antibodies are used to diagnose the infection.

Acute infection with hepatitis B virus is associated with acute viral hepatitis – an illness that begins with general ill-health, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, body aches, mild fever, dark urine, and then progresses to development of jaundice. It has been noted that itchy skin has been an indication as a possible symptom of all hepatitis virus types. The illness lasts for a few weeks and then gradually improves in most affected people. A few patients may have more severe liver disease (fulminant hepatic failure), and may die as a result of it. The infection may be entirely asymptomatic and may go unrecognized.

Chronic infection with hepatitis B virus may be either asymptomatic or may be associated with a chronic inflammation of the liver (chronic hepatitis), leading to cirrhosis over a period of several years. This type of infection dramatically increases the incidence of hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer). Chronic carriers are encouraged to avoid consuming alcohol as it increases their risk for cirrhosis and liver cancer. Hepatitis B virus has been linked to the development of Membranous glomerulonephritis (MGN).

Hepatitis B virus primarily interferes with the functions of the liver by replicating in liver cells, known as hepatocytes. The receptor is not yet known, though there is evidence that the receptor in the closely related duck hepatitis B virus is carboxypeptidase D. HBV virions (DANE particle) bind to the host cell via the preS domain of the viral surface antigen and are subsequently internalized by endocytosis. PreS and IgA receptors are accused of this interaction. HBV-preS specific receptors are primarily expressed on hepatocytes; however, viral DNA and proteins have also been detected in extrahepatic sites, suggesting that cellular receptors for HBV may also exist on extrahepatic cells.

During HBV infection, the host immune response causes both hepatocellular damage and viral clearance. Although the innate immune response does not play a significant role in these processes, the adaptive immune response, particularly virus-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs), contributes to most of the liver injury associated with HBV infection. CTLs eliminate HBV infection by killing infected cells and producing antiviral cytokines, which are then used to purge HBV from viable hepatocytes. Although liver damage is initiated and mediated by the CTLs, antigen-nonspecific inflammatory cells can worsen CTL-induced immunopathology, and platelets activated at the site of infection may facilitate the accumulation of CTLs in the liver.

Transmission of hepatitis B virus results from exposure to infectious blood or body fluids containing blood. Possible forms of transmission include sexual contact, blood transfusions, re-use of contaminated needles & syringes, and vertical transmission from mother to child during childbirth. Without intervention, a mother who is positive for HBsAg confers a 20% risk of passing the infection to her offspring at the time of birth. This risk is as high as 90% if the mother is also positive for HBeAg. HBV can be transmitted between family members within households, possibly by contact of nonintact skin or mucous membrane with secretions or saliva containing HBV. However, at least 30% of reported hepatitis B among adults cannot be associated with an identifiable risk factor.

Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is a member of the Hepadnavirus family. The virus particle, (virion) consists of an outer lipid envelope and an icosahedral nucleocapsid core composed of protein. The nucleocapsid encloses the viral DNA and a DNA polymerase that has reverse transcriptase activity. The outer envelope contains embedded proteins which are involved in viral binding of, and entry into, susceptible cells. The virus is one of the smallest enveloped animal viruses, with a virion diameter of 42 nm, but pleomorphic forms exist, including filamentous and spherical bodies lacking a core. These particles are not infectious and are composed of the lipid and protein that forms part of the surface of the virion, which is called the surface antigen (HBsAg), and is produced in excess during the life cycle of the virus.

The life cycle of hepatitis B virus is complex. Hepatitis B is one of a few known non-retroviral viruses which use reverse transcription as a part of its replication process. The virus gains entry into the cell by binding to an unknown receptor on the surface of the cell and enters it by endocytosis. Because the virus multiplies via RNA made by a host enzyme, the viral genomic DNA has to be transferred to the cell nucleus by host proteins called chaperones. The partially double stranded viral DNA is then made fully double stranded and transformed into covalently closed circular DNA (cccDNA) that serves as a template for transcription of four viral mRNAs. The largest mRNA, (which is longer than the viral genome), is used to make the new copies of the genome and to make the capsid core protein and the viral DNA polymerase. These four viral transcripts undergo additional processing and go on to form progeny virions which are released from the cell or returned to the nucleus and re-cycled to produce even more copies. The long mRNA is then transported back to the cytoplasm where the virion P protein synthesizes DNA via its reverse transcriptase activity.

The virus is divided into four major serotypes (adr, adw, ayr, ayw) based on antigenic epitopes presented on its envelope proteins, and into eight genotypes (A-H) according to overall nucleotide sequence variation of the genome. The genotypes have a distinct geographical distribution and are used in tracing the evolution and transmission of the virus. Differences between genotypes affect the disease severity, course and likelihood of complications, and response to treatment and possibly vaccination.

Several vaccines have been developed for the prevention of hepatitis B virus infection. These rely on the use of one of the viral envelope proteins (hepatitis B surface antigen or HBsAg). The vaccine was originally prepared from plasma obtained from patients who had long-standing hepatitis B virus infection. However, currently, it is made using a synthetic recombinant DNA technology that does not contain blood products. One cannot be infected with hepatitis B from this vaccine.

The risk of vertical transmission to the newborn can be drastically reduced from 20%-90% to 5%-10% by administering to the newborn hepatitis B vaccine (HBV 1) and hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG) within 12 hours of birth, followed by a second dose of hepatitis B vaccine (HBV 2) at 1-2 months and a third dose at and no earlier than 6 months (24 weeks). Since 2% of infants vaccinated will not develop immunity after the first three dose series, infants born to hepatitis B positive mothers are tested at 9 months for hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) and the antibody to the hepatitis B surface antigen (anti-HBs); if post-vaccination test results indicate that the child is still susceptible, a second three dose series at (0, 1 and 6 months) is administered. If the child is still susceptible after the second series, a third series is not recommended.

Following vaccination, hepatitis B surface antigen may be detected in serum for several days; this is known as vaccine antigenaemia. The vaccine is administered in either two-, three-, or four-dose schedules into infants and adults, which provides protection for 85–90% of individuals. Protection has been observed to last 12 years in individuals who show adequate initial response to the primary course of vaccinations, and that immunity is predicted to last at least 25 years.

Unlike hepatitis A, hepatitis B does not generally spread through water and food. Instead, it is transmitted through body fluids; prevention is thus the avoidance of such transmission: unprotected sexual contact, blood transfusions, re-use of contaminated needles and syringes, and vertical transmission during child birth. Infants may be vaccinated at birth.

Shi, et al. showed that besides the WHO recommended joint immunoprophylaxis starting from the newborn, multiple injections of small doses of hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIg, 200–400 IU per month), or oral lamivudine (100 mg per day) in HBV carrier mothers with a high degree of infectiousness (>106 copies/ml) in late pregnancy (the last three months of pregnancy), effectively and safely prevent HBV intrauterine transmission, which provide new insight into prevention of HBV at the earliest stage.

Acute hepatitis B infection does not usually require treatment because most adults clear the infection spontaneously. Early antiviral treatment may only be required in fewer than 1% of patients, whose infection takes a very aggressive course (fulminant hepatitis) or who are immunocompromised. On the other hand, treatment of chronic infection may be necessary to reduce the risk of cirrhosis and liver cancer. Chronically infected individuals with persistently elevated serum alanine aminotransferase, a marker of liver damage, and HBV DNA levels are candidates for therapy.

Although none of the available drugs can clear the infection, they can stop the virus from replicating, thus minimizing liver damage. Currently, there are seven medications licensed for treatment of hepatitis B infection in the United States. These include antiviral drugs lamivudine (Epivir), adefovir (Hepsera), tenofovir (Viread), telbivudine (Tyzeka) and entecavir (Baraclude) and the two immune system modulators interferon alpha-2a and PEGylated interferon alpha-2a (Pegasys). The use of interferon, which requires injections daily or thrice weekly, has been supplanted by long-acting PEGylated interferon, which is injected only once weekly. However, some individuals are much more likely to respond than others and this might be because of the genotype of the infecting virus or the patient's heredity. The treatment reduces viral replication in the liver, thereby reducing the viral load (the amount of virus particles as measured in the blood).

Infants born to mothers known to carry hepatitis B can be treated with antibodies to the hepatitis B virus (HBIg). When given with the vaccine within twelve hours of birth, the risk of acquiring hepatitis B is reduced 90%. This treatment allows a mother to safely breastfeed her child.

Hepatitis B virus infection may either be acute (self-limiting) or chronic (long-standing). Persons with self-limiting infection clear the infection spontaneously within weeks to months.

Children are less likely than adults to clear the infection. More than 95% of people who become infected as adults or older children will stage a full recovery and develop protective immunity to the virus. However, this drops to 30% for younger children, and only 5% of newborns that acquire the infection from their mother at birth will clear the infection. This population has a 40% lifetime risk of death from cirrhosis or hepatocellular carcinoma. Of those infected between the age of one to six, 70% will clear the infection.

Hepatitis D (HDV) can only occur with a concomitant hepatitis B infection, because HDV uses the HBV surface antigen to form a capsid. Co-infection with hepatitis D increases the risk of liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. Polyarteritis nodosa is more common in people with hepatitis B infection.

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