Hepatitis B is an acute infection of the liver. It is usually spread through contaminated blood via sexual intercourse, needle sharing, blood transfusions and injections. The virus can also be passed from mother to baby. Tattooing, body piercing and acupuncture are other ways in which the virus may be spread.
Hepatitis B occurs worldwide. Areas where there is a higher risk of exposure to hepatitis B include Eastern Europe, Russia, India, China, South and Central America, Africa, South East Asia and many south pacific islands.
The illness of all forms of hepatitis is similar however infection with hepatitis B is more serious than hepatitis A. Symptoms include mild fever, gastro-intestinal upset, nausea/vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain. Jaundice may also occur.
The illness lasts for about six months. Occasionally, the virus can persist for more than six months in individuals who become chronically infected with hepatitis B. These individuals may be referred to as carriers. Up to a quarter of individuals who are carriers have progressive liver disease which can cause cirrhosis and cancers of the liver.
Acute hepatitis B is treated symptomatically. Individuals who are diagnosed with this disease are usually monitored closely for any signs of liver failure.
Recommendations for Travellers
Travellers at risk should consider vaccination. This includes those who will be visiting areas where there is high risk of exposure to the virus. There are several brands of vaccine available to protect against hepatitis B: Engerix B, Engerix B Paediatric, Fendrix, HBvaxPro 05, HBvaxPro 10 and HBvaxPro 40.
Hepatitis B vaccine is also available in a preparation that combines it with hepatitis A vaccine for convenience: Ambirix, Twinrix and Twinrix Paediatric.
Individuals should avoid risky behaviour e.g. unprotected sex, tattoos, piercings, visiting traditional barbers in high risk destinations. Dental and surgical procedures should also be avoided in high risk areas.
Combined vaccine preparations PILs