Should You Worry About Hepatitis B?


 

The Hepatitis B virus, or HBV, is known as a particularly unattractive disease. Not only does it cause nausea and jaundice, a yellowing of the skin, but it can also lead to serious health issues like liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.

It’s estimated that some 850,000 Americans have HBV, and that as many as 20 million people will be infected every year because of unsafe medical injections.

Should you be worried? If current research and awareness projects around the world have anything to say about it, you won’t have to.

The National Medical Research Council in Singapore recently granted $25 million to a team hoping to find a permanent cure for Hepatitis B. While many times people infected with the virus are capable of healing without any treatment over the course of many years, for others it remains persistent.

The new research hopes to not only figure out why this disparity exists, but how to use it to develop more effective treatment.

“By understanding what causes this, we hope we can shorten the time taken for the body be cured of the virus to one to two years through new therapies,” said Dr. Lee Guan Huei of Singapore’s National University Hospital.

Meanwhile, at the University of Southern California, more scientists are looking to develop a cure for chronic HBV, which occurs when the virus is transmitted from mother to infant and has no current cure.

Jing-hsiung James Ou of the Keck School of Medicine at USC has had success with a new drug therapy that appears to eliminate HBV from lab rats in just four weeks.

“This study opens doors,” he said. “In the future, clinical treatment for chronic HBV infection may last merely one month rather than a lifetime.”

Of course, nothing is more important to public health than simple awareness. A group of medical students at the University of Texas Southwestern were recently commended in a White House ceremony for their HBV education and awareness initiatives around the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

UT Medical School Dean, Dr. J. Gregory Fitz, also applauded the students’ self-started efforts.

“I am proud to see our students engaged in such an important effort to prevent hepatitis B and to make this information available to those that need it most,” Fitz said. “Hepatitis B continues to be a major cause of liver cirrhosis and cancer, so their program can save lives.”

By the time those students become doctors themselves, HBV may be a thing of the past.

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