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Hepatitis B

did you know?

Hepatitis B is 50 to 100 times more infectious than the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Hepatitis B - What is it?

Hepatitis B is a disease caused by the hepatitis B virus which mainly affects the liver. The hepatitis B virus is easily spread through contact with blood or other bodily fluids of an infected person. Hepatitis B infection can be “acute” (short-term) and can progress to “chronic” (long-term) infection. Chronic infection can lead to serious complications including liver disease and liver cancer which can result in death.

Hepatitis B - Who is at risk?

Anyone who is not vaccinated against hepatitis B is at risk of getting the disease. People travelling to countries where hepatitis B is common are at greater risk.

Vaccination against hepatitis B is recommended for all unvaccinated travellers to countries where hepatitis B is common. Frequent destinations for Australian travellers where hepatitis B vaccination is recommended include countries such as Indonesia, Thailand, China, Singapore, Fiji, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Vietnam and India.

Other people may be at risk of hepatitis B infection. Please speak to your doctor regarding your individual circumstances.

Hepatitis B - How is it spread?

The hepatitis B virus is spread by coming in contact with blood or other bodily fluids of an infected person. Some examples of how the virus can be acquired include:

  • sharing of contaminated equipment for procedures that penetrate the skin, such as tattoo, body piercing  and acupuncture equipment
  • medical or dental procedures in areas where screening of blood may not occur
  • direct contact with infected blood or bodily fluids through open wounds or sores
  • sharing of personal grooming items such as razors or toothbrushes
  • exposure to infected blood through needles or sharp instruments
  • unprotected sexual contact
  • sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs
Hepatitis B - What are the symptoms?

About 50-70% of adults and most children (especially those less than 1 year of age) infected with hepatitis B will not show any symptoms.

Symptoms of acute infection can take 45 to 180 days to appear and may include fever, weakness, poor appetite, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, muscle/joint pain, dark-coloured urine, light-coloured stools, jaundice (yellowing of eyes and/or skin) and a general unwell feeling. Symptoms of acute infection can last for weeks or up to 6 months.

Most adults infected with hepatitis B will fully recover, however up to 10% of adults and up to 90% of infants will develop a lifelong condition (chronic hepatitis B). People with chronic hepatitis B often do not show any symptoms and may unknowingly pass the virus to others. Chronic infection is also associated with liver disease and liver cancer which can lead to death.

This is not a full list of symptoms that can occur following hepatitis B infection. If you feel unwell while travelling or when you return home, make sure you see a doctor as soon as possible.

Hepatitis B - Vaccination

Vaccination against hepatitis B is recommended for travellers to countries where hepatitis B is common. It is usually given as 3 or 4 doses depending on the schedule that is used. The full course needs to be completed to provide long term protection.

When travelling, it is important to plan ahead and make an appointment with your doctor, 6 to 8 weeks before leaving, to discuss vaccination and travel health.

Hepatitis B - Treatment

Treatment of acute hepatitis B aims to relieve symptoms. Chronic hepatitis B is treated with antiviral medications. Antiviral medications do not cure hepatitis B and aim to reduce the risk of developing liver disease and liver cancer.

It is important to plan ahead and see your doctor at least 6 to 8 weeks before you travel to discuss vaccination and travel health.

 

Some side effects may be experienced following vaccination. Please discuss any side effects or concerns with your healthcare professional.

 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION PLEASE SPEAK TO YOUR HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONAL

 

AUS/VAC/0044/15. Date of approval: April 2015.