What is Hepatitis-B?
Hepatitis B (HBV) is an infection of the liver. It is spread through blood, semen, or any other bodily fluids. The most common transmissions are through sexual contact, sharing needles, mother to child, or accidental contact (healthcare workers at high risk).
Acute & Chronic Infections
There are two types of an HBV infection, acute and chronic. Acute hepatitis B infections last less than 6 months, and your immune system will most likely clear it off. Most cases of HBV in adults are acute, but in some cases it can develop into a chronic infection. Chronic hepatitis B infections last six months or longer because your immune system can’t fight off the infection. Chronic infections can even last a lifetime and can cause cirrhosis, liver failure, and cancer. Newborns and children under the age of five are most susceptible to chronic infections.
The Silent Epidemic
HBV is known to be a silent epidemic. This is due to the fact that most people don’t show symptoms when newly infected, and go around unknowingly spreading the disease. Fortunately, hepatitis B is preventable and treatable! You can spot HBV through symptoms such as Jaundice, fever, abdominal & joint pain, fatigue/nausea. However the only way to know for sure is through blood testing! There is also a vaccine to prevent HBV, and various drug therapies for treatment. But what exactly is this vaccine?
Original HBV Vaccine Gets Discontinued
In the 1980’s, the first commercial hepatitis B vaccine was created. It was made through the hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg). This blood was collected from chronic HBV infected donors. It would then undergo a process of purification that would inactivate the viral particles and separate them from the surface protein This process used combinations of urea, pepsin, formaldehyde and heat Although this was safe from any blood-borne pathogens (ie. HIV), public concerns regarding plasma derived vaccines soon lead to it being discontinued in the 1990’s.
Yeast Cells Save the Day
The previous vaccine was replaced by a recombinant, yeast derived vaccine, which is also our current one. In infected patients, the virus begins to grow in their liver. It then produces an excessive amount of it’s surface protein. Our bodies protect ourselves by making an immune response to that protein that sits on the surface of the virus. The current vaccine takes the part of the virus that makes this surface protein (aka. surface protein gene), and inserts it into yeast cells. The yeast cells will then mass produce copies of this protein for use in the vaccine. When given to children, their bodies will make an immune response to the surface protein and protect them against infection.
I highly recommend everyone to take this vaccine, so they can protect both themselves and the people around them. It should also be noted that protection from this vaccination can last up to 30 years! Especially to any parents of newborns, vaccinating your children against this virus (any virus for that matter) is essential! Babies are at highest risk for chronic HBV which has detrimental impacts, and can even last for a lifetime.