What is Hepatitis B?
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 symptoms?
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 among some sub-Saharan African, East and Southeast Asian, and Pacific island populations but can also be found in high numbers in the Mediterranean countries, parts of eastern Europe, Africa, and Central and South America. It is important to note that although there is a higher risk in certain countries or regions, Hepatitis B occurs in all countries.
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.
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.
Travelvax urges travellers to take common sense precautions to avoid exposure to the Hepatitis B virus. The risk of infection is increased during travel however as 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), also needles may be re-used.
What is Hepatitis B Vaccination?
Australian children are vaccinated against Hepatitis B as part of the National Immunisation Program, but for adults the best way to ensure protection when visiting countries at higher risk of Hepatitis B is through vaccination. We offer two kinds of vaccination through Travelvax that work as follows:
- Synthetic vaccine* (Engerix-B / HB VaxII)
- Combined vaccine with Hepatitis A* (Twinrix)
Read more in the Australian Immunisation Handbook.
Three doses at 0, 1 and 6 months.
Contraindications: Should not be administered to individuals who have previously experienced a serious reaction to this vaccine or those who are known to be hypersensitive to any of the vaccine components.
For adults - 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 from?
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.