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The word hepatitis denotes inflammation of the liver. Serum hepatitis is an infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). It is often called hepatitis B infection or simply hepatitis B. Hepatitis B or serum hepatitis is a serious viral infection which can lead to many complications, such as chronic hepatitis, liver cirrhosis, liver cancer, and liver failure.
Serum hepatitis is transmitted to other people through the transfusion of blood positive for HBV, sexual contact, through a contaminated needle. Mothers infected with hepatitis B can also transfer the virus to their newborn babies during birth. The virus is generally found in the blood and body fluids, including semen, breast milk, tears, and saliva, although kissing and casual contact with a person who has the virus does not cause infection.
Hepatitis B can present in two ways, as acute hepatitis B or chronic hepatitis B. Acute hepatitis B is the first infection from the virus. Most infected individuals recover fully from this infection, making them not infectious to other people after recovery. Some cases of serum hepatitis, however, do not resolve. When an infected person's blood continues to be positive for the virus for six or more months, he is said to have chronic hepatitis B and is still capable of transmitting the disease to other people for as long as he remains positive.
After infection, the virus can stay inside the body to incubate, which usually takes between one month to six months. The symptoms of infection usually appear within four months of infection. Infected people may or may not experience any symptoms of serum hepatitis. When symptoms do manifest, they often include fever, nausea and stomach pain, weakness, joint pains, poor appetite, and jaundice or yellowing of the skin and eyes.
Most health experts advocate vaccination against hepatitis B virus. The vaccine is effective and safe, and is given in three separate doses or shots. Children and adolescents, as well as people who have an increased risk in contracting the virus, should be vaccinated. Those with an increased risk include health care workers who are frequently exposed to blood products, hemodialysis patients, people staying in nursing homes, injection drug users, and people who have multiple sex partners.
In order to prevent the spread of serum hepatitis, blood donors are also screened before being accepted to donate blood. The proper disposal of needles after use, frequent hand washing, and care when handling patients with serum hepatitis should also be practiced to avoid infection. Observing safe sex practices and using separate razors and toothbrushes are other ways to help avoid infection with HBV.