What is Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is a type of viral hepatitis which can cause damage to the liver. Unlike Hepatitis A, the Hepatitis B virus is not usually transmitted via contaminated water but rather via bodily fluids, such as blood or semen. It is often passed during sex or when using contaminated needles and medical equipment. Hepatitis B has a long incubation period of 40 – 160 days and is often symptomless.
Possible Hepatitis B symptoms are feeling or being sick, rash, joint pain, loss of appetite, tiredness and headache as well as flu-like symptoms. Some patients also develop a yellowing of skin and eyes, which is called jaundice. The infection can persist for a long time and become chronic Hepatitis B, resulting in liver cancer, damage and failure.
If you are travelling to an area where Hepatitis B is a common illness, you may require a Hepatitis B vaccine. The same goes for healthcare workers and medical professionals, who are more likely to be exposed to the infection.
Immunisation requires three individual doses, administered by injection. Our pharmacist will assess which course is suitable for you. Healthcare workers are advised to carry out a blood test one to four months after the course is completed, to check whether vaccination was successful. Travellers are at a lower risk of contracting Hepatitis B and do not require a blood test.
Those thought to have a continued high risk of infection should consider having a booster after 5 years. Boosters may be needed after exposure to the infection. If you think you have been exposed to hepatitis B please seek medical attention urgently.
Who needs the Hepatitis B vaccine?
Hepatitis B occurs in all parts of the world. In some areas, however, there is an increased risk due to the infection being widespread. Hepatitis B risk areas include parts of eastern Europe, Africa, South and Central America, South East Asia, Russia, India, China as well as some South Pacific Islands. If you are planning to travel to any of these destinations, your pharmacist can advise on whether you require a Hepatitis B Vaccine. Travel clinics also provide a combined Hepatitis A and B Vaccine for travellers who require immunisations against both infections.
Preventing Hepatitis B
Travellers are particularly at risk if they have an accident and require medical treatment in a country with a high incidence of Hepatitis B and a health care system with limited resources. In these circumstances, injections might be re-used or blood transfusions may not be screened for hep B. The hepatitis B vaccine helps prevent infection and protects you in case of such an emergency.
Hepatitis B is also transmitted during sexual intercourse. If you have sexual intercourse during your travels, always ensure you use a condom to prevent transmission. Avoid procedures which involve piercing your skin, such as tattooing and acupuncture.
Side effects of the Hepatitis B Vaccine
Common and very common side effects include:
– temporary soreness
– redness or hardening of the skin around the injection site
– gastro-intestinal disturbances
– loss of appetite
– muscle pain