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HBV (Hepatitis B Virus)

Hepatitis B is a serious liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Hepatitis B is transmitted when blood, semen, or another body fluid from a person infected with the Hepatitis B virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. This can be through percutaneous exposure (puncture through the skin) or mucosal exposure to infectious blood or body fluids. This can happen through sexual contact; sharing needles, syringes, or other drug-injection equipment; or from mother to baby at birth. It is equally important to recognize that HBV is not spread through contaminated food or water, sharing eating utensils, breastfeeding, hugging, kissing, hand holding, coughing, or sneezing. 

For some people, hepatitis B is an acute, or short-term, illness but for others, it can become a long-term, chronic infection. Risk for chronic infection is related to age at infection: approximately 90% of infected infants become chronically infected, compared with 2%–6% of adults. Chronic Hepatitis B can lead to serious health issues, like cirrhosis or liver cancer. The best way to prevent Hepatitis B is by getting vaccinated. The hepatitis B vaccine is typically given as three or four injections over six months. 

Prevalence in the Middle East is heterogeneous. Bahrain, Iran, and Kuwait are classified as areas of low endemicity, whereas Cyprus, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates have intermediate endemicity and Egypt, Jordan, Oman, Palestine, Yemen and Saudi Arabia have high endemicity. Infection rates are decreasing though due to vaccination programs, with a recent estimate of 4.25% in the general population in Saudi Arabia. Iran established a national HBV vaccination program in 1993. As a result, the prevalence of HBsAg positive among children aged 2-14 has fallen from 1.3% in 1991 to 0.8% in 1999. Still, HBV is the most common cause of acute viral hepatitis in this country.