The Hepatitis B Virus is the pathogen. Infection occurs via injuries (even the tiniest micro injuries) of the skin or mucous membranes via people’s juices and eliminations. Sexual contact and insufficiently disinfected needles represent the main sources of contagion.
The incubation period of Hepatitis B is very long. It can last up to nine months. Generally, however, the disease occurs after 50-90 days. The patient feels weak, listless and has no appetite. As a result of the inflammation of the liver the hemoglobin cannot be broken down and thus collects on the skin (Icterus). The body tries to eliminate the bilirubin via urine and stool. Due to the fact that bilirubin is reabsorbed in the intestines and reaches the kidney the stool seems to have no color and the urine is dark brown.
A majority of infected adults acquire immunity either without falling ill or having virtually no symptoms.
The immune system of a part of the people who have contracted the disease does not eliminate the virus from the body. They become chronic virus carriers. The younger the people are who have the disease, the higher the percentage is of chronic virus carrier. In Germany the number of chronic virus carriers is estimated to be about 500000. (Thefeld: Hepatitis B Durchseuchung in der deutschen Bevölkerung, Bundesgesundheitsblatt 1994,37;372-377)
Therapy for Hepatitis B is generally symptomatic. If the course of the disease is chronic it is treated with interferon or antiviral substances.
Hepatitis generally heals well. However, 1-10% develops chronic inflammation of the liver.
In children the percentage is 40%, in newborns even 90%. Approx. 25% of the people who have the disease develop a cirrhotic liver, chronic liver failure or even liver cancer.
Having contracted the disease leads to lifelong immunity.
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