Hepatitis B

What is the illness?


Infectious illness of the liver caused by the HBV virus. It usually heals spontaneously; however, there are recorded cases (5 - 10% of young persons or adults infected and 90% of neonates or young children) in which the hepatitis becomes chronic with the risk of degenerating into cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer.


In Switzerland there are about 20-30,000 people with chronic hepatitis B. Thanks to the introduction of  vaccinations the number of new cases is gradually falling (currently less than 100 acute hepatitis B cases per annum in Switzerland). 

How is it contracted and recognised?


Through contaminated blood, by means of unprotected sex, the sharing of syringes by drug addicts, by an infected mother to a neonate during birth, by contact with small open skin lesions (especially children).


Acute hepatitis B is symptomatic only in 20-50% of cases with tiredness, headache, fever, nausea, abdominal pains, diarrhoea and in many cases jaundice (yellow coloration of eyes and skin), with clear faeces and dark urine. Chronic hepatitis B is for the most part asymptomatic (only symptom may be chronic tiredness).


By means of two different types of test: serological tests, which indicate the clinical stage of the infection (e.g. acute, chronic, cured), and subsequent tests based on molecular biology principles which reveal the presence of the viral genome and identify it.

How is it treated?


It is effectively treated with various anti-viral drugs.  In the advanced stages or in rare cases of fulminant acute hepatitis a liver transplant may be successfully carried out.


Extremely safe and effective vaccination recommended for adolescents between 11 and 15 years of age and individuals at risk (e.g. health workers and drug addicts). The risk of infection may be reduced by practising safe sex, avoiding the sharing of syringes and tattooing or entering geographical areas where the virus is widely spread.