Hepatitis B is a serious disease, caused by a virus that infects the liver. It can cause illness within weeks or more usually months of exposure, which can continue for years and may ultimately cause death through liver failure or liver cancer.
Whilst not as easy to catch as hepatitis A, it is usually a more serious disease and more common in the developing world. It is also difficult to treat.Most new cases of hepatitis B in WA occur in the under 40 age group. As a result, the hepatitis B vaccine was introduced universally in Australia in 2000, and most people up to their late 20s have now been vaccinated.
The disease is spread through blood or bodily fluids, as with HIV and Hepatitis C. Being more common overseas, it’s essential to avoid unprotected sex, tattoos and sharing needles when travelling. However, some potential exposures can be difficult to predict or prevent, such as motor vehicle accidents or even medical treatment overseas, including blood products used to treat rabies exposure overseas.
The most common way of contracting Hepatitis B worldwide is through childbirth. Ie Mother to child transmission.
Like hepatitis A it causes fever, lethargy, low apatite and yellow Jaundice from Liver damage. Often lasting several months and sometimes years.
Vaccination is the best prevention as well as following safe sex guidelines, avoiding tattoos, sharing needles and avoiding blood products while travelling. Whilst those born after 2000 are usually immunised it is advisable to have a blood test to check immunity prior to travel. Vaccination is very safe and very effective and once immunity is confirmed it lasts for life.
As hepatitis B is a serious disease for which treatment is neither simple nor always effective, vaccination is very important, particularly in younger non vaccinated travellers setting out on longer, adventurous journeys. The hep B vaccine can be given a number of ways, but most commonly as three doses over a six month period.
Having two doses a month apart prior to travel will provide good initial protection. Having the third dose after six months will extend this for life. Side effects of the hep B vaccine are neither serious nor common, and it’s a relatively inexpensive vaccine compared to some.