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 cirrhosis. Whilst not as easy to catch as Hepatitis A, which is from food, it’s 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, as with HIV and Hepatitis C. Being more common overseas, it’s essential to avoid unprotected sex, tattoos and intravenous drug use when travelling. However, some potential exposures can be difficult to predict or prevent, such as motor vehicle accidents or even medical treatment.
Is there a hepatitis B vaccine?
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 others.