Hepatitis B is a virus that can infect a person through the transmission of bodily fluids from an infected person, such as during sexual intercourse or the use of syringes and needles contaminated by the blood of an infected person. It can also be passed on from mother to baby during birth.
Acute hepatitis B is short-term in nature, affecting someone within the first 6 months of infection. However, hepatitis B may sometimes remain in the body even after medication, and the person is then categorised as having chronic or long-term hepatitis B. Chronic hepatitis B (CHB) requires proper medication in order to stop the virus from multiplying and causing further damage to the liver.
Hepatitis B complications
- Cirrhosis (extensive liver scarring).
- Liver failure.
- Liver cancer.
- Other conditions such as kidney disease, inflammation of blood vessels or anemia.
In the past, CHB patients were given antiviral pills such as lamivudine, adefovir and entecavir, which usually have to be taken for life. Now, there is another option: pegylated interferon (Peg-IFN), such as peginterferon alfa-2a, which is administered via injection under the skin.
Through Peg-IFN, patients only need to receive 1 injection a week for 48 weeks. After that, treatment can be stopped.
More importantly, research has shown that Peg-IFN is effective in treating Hepatitis B. A paper published in Antiviral Research in 2003 found that peginterferon alpha-2a (40 kDa) conferred a notably improved treatment response in patients with "difficult-to-treat" hepatitis B infections. In conclusion, peginterferon alpha-2a (40 kDa) is a promising emerging therapy for CHB.
Who should take Peg-IFN?
Patients with the following profiles respond most effectively to Peg-IFN treatment:
- High ALT level (≥2 X ULN)
- Low viral load (HBV DNA <2 x 108 IU/mL)
- HBV genotype (A and B)
- Female (especially those who wish to be cleared of the virus before they become pregnant)
For more information on Peg-IFN, please talk to your doctor.
CHB may not cause any symptoms, so you may not realise you have it until the disease has worsened and you become really ill. If you suspect that you are exposed to the hepatitis B virus, please get screened. Screening is affordable and easily available.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at www.cdc.gov
Craxi A, Cooksley WG. (2003). Pegylated interferons for chronic hepatitis B. Antiviral Res. Oct; 60(2):87-9.
Dienstag JL, et al. (2007). Cross-study analysis of the relative efficacies of oral antiviral therapies for chronic hepatitis B infection in nucleoside-naive patients. Clin Drug Invest.; 27(1):35-39.
WebMD. Available at www.webmd