Hepatitis B is a potentially life-threatening liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). It can cause chronic liver disease and puts people at high risk from cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer, according to the WHO.

HBV can cause an acute illness with symptoms that last several weeks, including yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), dark urine, extreme fatigue, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. People can take from several months to a year, to recover. HBV can also cause chronic liver infection that can later develop into cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer.

The severity of an HBV infection also depends upon the age at which a person becomes infected. Younger children who become infected with HBV, are the most likely to develop chronic infections.

About 90 percent of infants infected during the first year of life develop chronic infections; 30 to 50 percent of children infected between one to four years of age develop chronic infections. About 25 percent of adults who become chronically infected during childhood die from HBV-related liver cancer or cirrhosis.

About 90 percent of healthy adults who are infected with HBV will recover and be completely rid of the virus within six months. Worldwide, an estimated two billion people have been infected with HBV, and more than 350 million have chronic (long-term) liver infections.

A vaccine against hepatitis B has been available since 1982. Hepatitis B vaccine is 95 percent effective in preventing HBV infection and its chronic consequences, and is the first vaccine against a major human cancer. Hepatitis B infection can be avoided effectively through practicing some basic discipline:

1) Wash your hands: Hepatitis cannot be transmitted casually by shaking hands, sharing a hug, or even with others in the workplace. However, practicing basic habits of hygiene like washing hands before eating etc., can go a long way in protecting you from hepatitis infection.

2) Wash fruits and vegetables: Fruits and veggies sold in the markets could be potential sources of hepatitis virus as they can be tainted with bugs through various unhygienic sources. So it is best to wash them thoroughly before consuming.

3) Practice safe sex: Hepatitis can be transmitted though unprotected sex. When a person is infected by hepatitis virus, the virus enters the bloodstream and body fluids, and is able to pass through tiny breaks in the skin, mouth, or the male or female genital area.

4) Immunization: Vaccines are now available in the market which can offer you protection against several strains of viruses that cause hepatitis. Hepatitis vaccines are effective for all age-group. However, you need to check with your physician before going in for a vaccination against hepatitis.

5) Safe blood transfusion: Blood and blood products infected with hepatitis B virus are the prime source of the disease. If you are advised blood transfusion, ensure that the blood is HBV free.