Holiday Traveller

What is Hepatitis B Vaccination?

Hepatitis B (HBV) is a viral infection of the liver; it is the most common liver infection in the world, causing serious consequences if left untreated. Once in the bloodstream, the virus attaches to healthy liver cells and multiplies, triggering an immune response and eventually leading to various painful symptoms and sometimes severe disease. While people often recover from the virus, the risk of transmission will remain for life. Immunisation is the best way to prevent contracting Hepatitis B.

What are the symptons?

HBV has an average incubation period of 10 weeks (range of 2 to 6 months) and causes gradually increasing fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea and pain in the right upper abdomen. There may also be a rash and pain in the joints that are followed by yellow discolouration of the skin (jaundice) and darkening of the urine. As with Hepatitis A, mild or asymptomatic infections occur, but less frequently. One important difference with Hep B is that 10% of adults and 30% of children who contract HBV will become chronic carriers: This means they will recover but will always remain capable of transmitting the disease. Some carriers will develop chronic hepatitis that can later lead to liver failure or liver cancer. In a small number of cases, HBV results in rapid liver failure and death.

Where is it found?

Hepatitis B prevalence is highest in sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia but can also be found in high numbers in the Amazon, southern areas of eastern and central Europe and the western Pacific region. Other areas where Hepatitis B is more prevalent but not as high risk are the Middle East and India. It is important to note that although there is a higher risk in certain countries, Hepatitis B does occur in all countries.

How is Hepatitis B transmitted?

In infected individuals, the HBV virus is present in body fluids such as blood, semen and vaginal secretions and is usually transmitted through sexual contact, intravenous drug use, prolonged close contact with infected individuals or from an infected mother during birth. HBV can be transmitted through accidental needle-stick injuries, tattooing, ear-piercing, nicks from infected razors, acupuncture and dental procedures. It is not transmitted through contaminated food or water.

Risk to travellers

Most individuals have some degree of risk of contracting Hepatitis B. High-risk behaviour includes:

  • Unprotected sex.
  • Multiple sexual partners or encounters with sex workers.
  • Intravenous drug use.
  • Exposure to blood products or needles (i.e. dental work, tattoos, body piercing, acupuncture).
  • Living/travelling in regions where there is a high number of HBV carriers. This risk is accentuated for travellers engaging in adventure-style activities, where the risk of injury is higher.
  • Health care and aid workers.

Travelvax urges travellers to take common sense precautions to avoid exposure to the Hepatitis B virus. However, accidents and injuries may require medical treatment, and in many third world countries blood transfusions may not be adequately screened for Hepatitis, as well as STIs and HIV-AIDS. Furthermore, needles may be re-used.

Australian children are vaccinated against Hepatitis B as part of the National Immunisation Program  but for adults the best way to stay protected when visiting countries at higher risk of Hepatitis B is through vaccination. We offer two kinds of vaccination through Travelvax that work as follows:

Vaccination

Type

  • Synthetic vaccine* (Engerix-B / HB VaxII)
  • Combined vaccine with Hepatitis A* (Twinrix)

Schedule

  • Three doses at 0, 1 and 6 months.

Accelerated Schedule

  • Days 0, 7 and 21, with a booster at 12 months. (Approved for Engerix-B and Twinrix only).

Alternate schedules for schoolchildren are available. Consult a medical practitioner for details.

Level of protection

  • Greater than 90% immunity after three doses.
  • Immunity is life-long. (Australian immunisation experts do not recommend testing for immunity unless in a high-risk group).

Possible Side effects

  • Usually infrequent and mild.
  • Redness, swelling, a hard lump or bruising around the injection site.
  • Feeling unwell, headache, dizziness, tiredness.
  • Muscle aches and pains.
  • Coughing, sore throat, runny nose, mild fever, swollen glands, chills or sweating.

As with all vaccines, there is a small risk of allergic reaction.

Where can I get a Hepatitis B vaccination?

If you require vaccination against Hepatitis B, head to a Travelvax clinic near you. Staffed by trained professionals who have access to state-of-the-art equipment, we can help keep you safe on your next trip.

More information on Hepatitis B is available during your pre-travel consultation with Travelvax.

Call 1300 360 164 for the location of the clinic nearest to you.