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Why Occult Hepatitis B Can Be Hazardous

Nicole Cutler L.Ac. February 7, 2012

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New research shows that even if Hepatitis B is hidden, it can still cause serious harm.

The Hepatitis B virus can be very deceptive; many who are infected have no indication they are living with this illness. Aside from making sure not to accidentally spread Hepatitis B to anyone else, there is a newly documented reason to make sure you are not harboring any “hidden” Hepatitis B viral particles in your liver – and, if you are, to take steps to prevent liver disease progression. Based on recently published research from Hong Kong, hidden cases of Hepatitis B are frequently the cause of primary liver cancer from unknown etiology.

About Primary Liver Cancer

Otherwise referred to as hepatocellular carcinoma, primary liver cancer is a cancer that begins in the cells of the liver. It occurs when liver cells develop mutations that grow out of control and form a cancerous tumor. Worldwide, over half a million people die each year from primary liver cancer – 80 percent of which are caused by chronic hepatitis. As the third leading cancer-related cause of death and the seventh most common form of cancer worldwide, hepatocellular carcinoma is often diagnosed late in the course of viral hepatitis infection. Although new treatments are slowly becoming available, the five-year survival rate for primary liver cancer is a mere 10 percent.

About Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by the Hepatitis B virus. It can be acute or chronic.

  • About 90-95 percent of infected adults are able to fight off the virus during the acute stage, thus curing their infection.
  • The remaining 5 to 10 percent develop chronic Hepatitis B infection.
  • About two-thirds of people with chronic Hepatitis B are chronic carriers.
  • Chronic carriers do not develop symptoms, although they still harbor the virus and can transmit it to others.
  • The remaining one third with chronic Hepatitis B develop “active” hepatitis, a potentially serious health condition.
  • Although poorly understood, occult, or hidden, Hepatitis B is relatively common in those who are chronic carriers.
  • Occult Hepatitis B infection is defined as infection with detectable Hepatitis B DNA and undetectable surface antigen (HBsAg) in patients’ blood.
  • The cause of a Hepatitis B infection becoming occult is unknown.

Although many assume occult Hepatitis B to be relatively innocuous, new research demonstrates its connection to the development of primary liver cancer.

About The New Research

As published in a September 2011 edition of the journal Hepatology, researchers from Hong Kong investigated the incidence of occult Hepatitis B infection in people with primary liver cancer from an unknown source (cryptogenic).

In those with hepatocellular carcinoma, the researchers looked at tumor tissue and adjacent non-tumor liver tissue from cryptogenic liver cancer patients and patients with liver cancer from an identifiable cause. They found that occult Hepatitis B was identified in 73 percent of cryptogenic, primary liver cancer patients. Based on their findings, the study authors concluded that nearly three-quarters of patients with apparently unidentifiable causes for hepatocellular carcinoma actually had Hepatitis B-related liver cancer.

The researchers recognized that their findings mandate further investigation into the risks of occult Hepatitis B infection. Individuals with this “hidden” form of chronic Hepatitis B seem to have a minimal impact from the virus, which could lead to a false sense of security. Although more information is needed to fully understand occult Hepatitis B, this research reiterates the importance of comprehensive testing for Hepatitis B, vaccination against it and instituting interventions to mitigate the potential for developing primary liver cancer.

References:

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/hep.24551/abstract, Occult hepatitis B infection and HBV replicative activity in patients with cryptogenic cause of hepatocellular carcinoma, Danny Ka Ho Wong, et al, Retrieved September 18, 2011, Hepatology, September 2011.

http://www.emedicinehealth.com/hepatitis_b/article_em.htm#Hepatitis%20B%20Overview, Hepatitis B, Retrieved September 18, 2011, WebMD, Inc, 2011.

http://www.hepatitis-central.com/mt/archives/2011/08/two_liver_cance.html, Two Liver Cancer Discoveries May Impact Hepatitis Patients, Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., Retrieved September 18, 2011, Natural Wellness, 2011.

http://www.hivandhepatitis.com/hepatitis-b/hepatitis-b-topics/hbv-disease-progression/370-occult-hbv/3216-occult-hbv-infection-may-be-the-cause-of-unexplained-liver-cancer, Occult Hepatitis B Infection May Be the Cause of Unexplained Liver Cancer, Liz Highleyman, Retrieved September 18, 2011, hivandhepatitis.com, 2011.

http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/715052, Occult Hepatitis B Virus Infection: A Covert Operation, F. B. Hollinger; G. Sood, Retrieved September 18, 2011, Journal of Viral Hepatitis, 2010.

http://www.virologyj.com/content/5/1/146, Occult hepatitis B infection: an evolutionary scenario, Formijn J van Hemert, et al, Retrieved September 18, 2011, Virology Journal, 2008.

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