Hepatitis B Progression
Soon after the hepatitis B virus (HBV) enters the body, it infects cells in the liver called hepatocytes. In response to this infection, the immune system tries to destroy the virus. The liver participates in this fight by increasing the amount of enzymes it manufactures, which causes inflammation of the liver (hepatitis).
The initial infection is known as acute hepatitis B, meaning short-term inflammation of the liver. Most people are able to clear hep B from the body within six months of becoming infected. If they clear it, they are no longer infected, nor can they infect others. Additionally, they now have hepatitis B antibodies, which will protect them from future reinfection.
Chronic Hepatitis B Virus Infection
A chronic hepatitis B infection means that the immune system is not able to get rid of the virus within six months after infection. In other words, the virus continues to reproduce in the person’s liver for several months or years after infection. This can increase the risk of liver damage and liver cancer. What’s more, someone with chronic HBV infection can transmit the virus to others. The risk of chronic infection is higher in infants and children than it is in adults.
Most adults who are infected with hepatitis B clear the virus during the acute phase of the infection. People who have impaired immune responses have a higher risk of not clearing hep B on their own and are more likely to develop chronic HBV infection. Examples are:
People living with HIV
Organ transplant recipients
Those undergoing chemotherapy
People on dialysis for kidney problems
Anyone on steroid therapy to suppress the immune system.