Extremely resistant to environmental influences: What makes hepatitis B so dangerous

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Stable pathogen: Why hepatitis B is so dangerous
Hepatitis B is one of the most common infectious diseases. The hepatitis B virus can cause both acute and chronic liver disease. The problem is that the dangerous pathogen is extremely resistant to environmental influences.

Almost 300 million people infected worldwide
Hepatitis viruses have plagued humanity for thousands of years: Researchers at the University of Kiel recently found a strain of ancient hepatitis B viruses in studies of 7,000-year-old skeletons. Today, around 290 million people worldwide are chronically infected with the hepatitis B virus. This makes hepatitis B one of the most common infectious diseases. The pathogen can cause both acute and chronic liver disease. Due to the consequences of serious liver diseases, the virus costs many people their lives every year.

Again and again infections
Hepatitis B viruses (HBV) are contagious at room temperature for weeks and even defy the cold at four degrees Celsius for nine months, reports the Ruhr University Bochum in a press release.

Hepatitis B is mainly transmitted by blood contact.

“This means that it should be possible to control it by means of suitable hygiene measures,” said Prof. Dr. Eike Steinmann from the Department of Molecular and Medical Virology at the RUB.

However, it happens again and again that people in hospitals or in professional situations become infected with the hepatitis B virus.

In their search for the reasons for this, researchers have had to resort to the duck hepatitis B virus, a relative of the human virus.

“However, these studies only allow limited reliable estimates of the infectivity of HBV,” explains Steinmann.

The scientist and his colleagues now used a HBV infection system in human liver cells recently developed at the Institut Pasteur Korea in Seoul for their investigations in order to obtain realistic results.

Common hand disinfectants have an effect
With this model, the researchers were able to show that HBV at room temperature hardly loses any infectivity after weeks and is also very stable at four degrees Celsius for nine months.

“Various types of alcohol and commercially available hand disinfectants inactivate the viruses,” says Eike Steinmann.

“However, diluting the disinfectants rendered the inactivating activity ineffective. Fortunately, the dilution of disinfectants is very unusual in practice”.

The researchers advise strict adherence to hygiene guidelines in order to prevent infections with HBV in the future.

The results of the experts were published in the specialist magazine “Journal of Infectious Diseases”.

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