WHAT IS HEPATITIS B?
Hepatitis B is an severe infection of the liver, caused by a bloodborne virus. It is usually spread through contaminated blood via sexual intercourse, needle sharing, blood transfusions and injections. The virus can also be passed from a mother to baby. Tattooing, body piercing and acupuncture are other ways in which the virus may be spread.
The symptoms of Hepatitis B can be more serious but similar to other Hepatitis infections. Symptoms include mild fever, gastro-intestinal upset, nausea/vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain. Jaundice (characterised by a yellowing of the skin and eye whites) may also occur. However most people do not experience many initial symptoms at all, this may be true of chronic sufferers.
The illness usually lasts for about six months. The virus can persist for more than six months in individuals who become chronically infected with hepatitis B. These individuals may be referred to as carriers. Up to a quarter of individuals who are carriers have progressive liver disease which can cause cirrhosis and cancers of the liver.
DO I NEED HEPATITIS B VACCINE FOR MY HOLIDAY?
The risk of Hepatitis B for tourists and short term travellers is low. However, as risk is associated with behaviour, it will increase with certain activities particularly in areas were the disease is more prevalent. Hepatitis B occurs worldwide. Areas where there is a higher risk of exposure to hepatitis B include Eastern Europe, Russia, India, China, South and Central America, Africa, South East Asia and many south pacific islands.
Several vaccines are available for Hepatitis B
Engerix B Paediatric:
HB Vax Pro:
HB Vax Pro Paediatric:
A combination vaccine is also available for Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B for travellers aged 15 and over. (Combined vaccines can be discussed with your local travel vaccine centre)
HOW DO I AVOID GETTING HEPATITIS B?
Individuals should avoid risky behaviour e.g. unprotected sex, tattoos, piercings, visiting traditional barbers in high risk destinations. Dental and surgical procedures should also be avoided in high risk areas.
Travellers to more at risk countries and areas may wish to consider taking a sterile medical kit that may contain equipment such as hypodermic needles and syringes, scalpels and IV cannulas.