Hepatitis B infection of the liver can be potentially life threatening. In many people (about 50% of the infected cases) it does not cause symptoms and these people may never realize that they have been infected.
Prognosis of hepatitis B
Infection with hepatitis B virus can cause acute or chronic infection of the liver. Symptoms of acute hepatitis are more likely to occur in adults than children. Most people develop signs and symptoms usually within 1 to 4 months after exposure to the virus. The initial symptoms are unspecific and often similar to flu. Many people are able to eliminate the virus and improve rapidly after acute hepatitis B. Some people may have a prolonged duration of the disease with very slow improvement over a period of several months.
Some people may develop chronic hepatitis. People with chronic HBV infection may develop liver damage (cirrhosis), liver cancer and liver failure, which can lead to their death in some cases. Chronic hepatitis is diagnosed based on presence or absence of certain hepatitis 'markers' or 'serology.' Currently there is no treatment which can prevent acute hepatitis B from becoming chronic.
People with chronic hepatitis B, are advised to follow-up regularly with their health care provider to monitor the condition of the disease. Based on the viral load and symptoms the doctor will start treatment. Treatment aims to stop multiplication of the virus in liver. Decrease of viral load with treatment may help the immune system to overcome and deactivate the remaining virus. This helps to prevent further liver damage and reduces the risk of complications such as chronic liver disease or cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and liver cancer.
In some rare cases, people with hepatitis B infection (about 1% of infected people) may develop a severe form of acute hepatitis called fulminate hepatitis. It can be life-threatening if not treated appropriately and without delay.