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Travel Health - Hepatitis B

 


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What is Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is one of the 3 most common vaccine preventable diseases contracted by travellers.

It is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV) and is carried in blood and other bodily fluids such as saliva, urine and semen.

One in three people worldwide has been infected with the hepatitis B virus and more than 350 million are chronic hepatitis B carriers. It is the leading cause of liver cancer and the World Health Organisation estimates that hepatitis B leads to more than a million deaths worldwide every year.
What are the symptoms?
While about half of all people infected with hepatitis B experience no symptoms at all, others may develop flu like symptoms including fever, fatigue, muscle or joint pain, loss of appetite, weight loss, itchy skin, dark coloured urine, nausea and vomiting. In some cases this can be followed by the development of jaundice (yellow skin and eyes).

The symptoms can last up to eight weeks until, in most cases, the body creates the necessary antibodies to fight the infection. However it can take several months to a year to feel fit again.

Sometimes the symptoms of hepatitis B can be life threatening and 1% of all cases are fatal in adults. Between 5% and 10% of those infected become chronic hepatitis B carriers often without knowing it. Chronic carriers have increased risk of developing liver disease such as cirrhosis or liver cancer and importantly for public health, they remain infectious to other people
How is it contracted?
Hepatitis B is up to 100 times more infectious than HIV and is most commonly transmitted by:
  • Overseas travellers visiting the high-risk areas detailed below
  • Use of contaminated needles for medical procedures or IV drug use
  • Use of none sterilised equipment eg manicures, pedicures, tattooing, acupuncture, piercing
  • Direct blood to blood contact eg through contact sports, road accidents, caring for injured people
  • Unprotected sex
  • Sharing of toothbrushes, razors, or nail clippers
Protecting yourself against Hepatitis B?
Vaccination

The hepatitis B vaccine is given by injection and is available for children over one year old and adults.

When should you be vaccinated?

Check with your doctor or practice nurse as soon as you have decided where and when you are travelling, and they will advise on an appropriate vaccination scheule for you .

Does the vaccination have any side effects?

Like most injections, some people may experience tenderness and redness at the site of the injection. Hepatitis B cannot be contracted directly from the vaccine.

Does the hepatitis B vaccine protect against other types of hepatitis?

Other types of hepatitis e.g. hepatitis A and C are all different diseases caused by different viruses. The hepatitis B vaccine only protects against the hepatitis B virus.


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