Hepatitis B: What are the pros and cons of screening?
A blood test can be done to find out whether someone has been infected with the hepatitis B virus. But it’s not clear whether population-wide hepatitis B screening would be worthwhile.
Hepatitis B infections can lead to a liver inflammation. About 6,800 new cases of hepatitis B were reported in Germany in 2020. But some people don’t know that they have hepatitis B because it doesn’t always cause symptoms. The symptoms that do occur – such as lack of appetite, nausea or feeling unwell – could also be signs of many other illnesses. In very rare cases hepatitis B can lead to sudden liver failure.
To find out whether someone has been infected with the hepatitis B virus, a multi-step blood test can be done. First, a test is done to look for certain parts of the virus in the blood and for antibodies that are made in reaction to the virus. Depending on the outcome, other blood tests may follow.
Acute hepatitis infections usually clear up on their own and don't have to be treated. In some people, though, the infection becomes permanent (chronic). Over time, chronic hepatitis B can lead to liver damage (liver cirrhosis) or liver cancer.