What is hepatitis?

Inflammation of the liver is called hepatitis. It is most commonly caused by a viral infection, but there are other possible causes, such as certain medications and alcohol.
When hepatitis is caused by viruses, it is known as viral hepatitis. Viral hepatitis is a major health problem that affects hundreds of millions of adults and children worldwide, and the most common forms are hepatitis A, B and C.

How does hepatitis affect the liver?

The liver has many functions:

  • It helps purify the blood by changing harmful chemicals into harmless ones. The source of these harmful chemicals can be external, such as medications, or internal chemicals, such as ammonia or bilirubin
  • It produces many important substances, such as proteins, that are necessary for good health. For example, it produces albumin- the protein building block of the body- as well as proteins that cause blood to clot properly
  • It stores many sugars, fats and vitamins until they are needed elsewhere in the body
  • It builds smaller chemicals into larger, more complicated chemicals, that are needed elsewhere in the body. An example of this type of function is the manufacture of cholesterol

Hepatitis viruses replicate or multiply in the liver cells. Newly formed viruses are released into the blood stream where they can spread to other organs, or to other persons via infected blood.
When the liver is inflamed, it does not perform its functions well, which brings about many of the symptoms, signs, and problems associated with any type of hepatitis.

What are the symptoms and ways of transmission?

Hepatitis infections can be either acute or chronic. Hepatitis A is an acute, short-term illness that goes away without requiring any treatment. It is usually spread through contaminated food and water.
Hepatitis B and C infections can become chronic, and develop slowly over the years without showing any symptoms. This eventually causes serious problems to the liver, such as liver damage, liver failure and liver cancer.
Among the acute symptoms of hepatitis A, B and C are fatigue, nausea, poor appetite, fever, dark urine, pale stool, and yellow skin and eyes.
Hepatitis B is usually transmitted through blood or body fluid contact of an infected person. An infected mother can pass the virus to her baby during childbirth, but it cannot spread by sharing food, or coughing or hugging.

Is there a blood test for hepatitis B?

There is a simple blood test for hepatitis B, called the hepatitis B blood panel.
There are 3 common tests that make up this blood panel. Sometimes the doctor may ask to check your blood again six months after your first visit, to confirm your hepatitis B status.
If you think you have been recently infected with hepatitis B, it will take 4 to 6 weeks before the virus will be detected in your blood.

What 3 tests make up the hepatitis B blood panel?

The hepatitis B blood panel requires only one blood sample, but includes three tests:

  • HBsAg (Hepatitis B Surface Antigen)
  • HBsAb or anti-HBs (Hepatitis B Surface Antibody)
  • HBcAb or anti-HBc (Hepatitis B Core Antibody)

The doctor needs all 3 blood test results in order to determine your diagnosis.

What is the hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg)?

This tests checks for the presence of the virus. A positive HBsAg test result means that the person is infected with the hepatitis B virus, which can be an acute or a chronic infection. Infected people can pass the virus on to others through their blood and infected bodily fluids.

What is the hepatitis B surface antibody (HBsAb or anti-HBs)?

A positive HBsAb (or anti-HBs) test result indicates that a person has successfully responded to the hepatitis B vaccine, or has recovered from an acute hepatitis B infection. This result means that you are immune to future hepatitis B infection, and you are not contagious.

What is the hepatitis B core antibody (HBcAb or anti-HBc)?

The HBcAb is an antibody that is part of the virus- it does not provide protection. A positive HBcAb (or anti-HBc) result indicates a past or present infection, but it could also be a false positive.
The interpretation of this test result depends on the results of the other two tests. Its appearance with the protective surface antibody (positive HBsAb or anti-HBs) indicates prior infection and recovery. For chronically infected persons, it will usually appear with the virus (positive HBsAg).

Updated: September, 2018
All information has been presented for better understanding and general information purposes only.Maximum care has been taken for its authenticity, however it should not be considered as comprehensive or complete. The information provided is not intended as a means of diagnosing a health problem or determining treatment. Therefore, it is not meant as a substitute for the advice provided by your doctor.