What is hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is a viral liver infection that is spread through blood and body fluids. While often asymptomatic, it can lead to acute illness lasting one to three months, or chronic illness lasting six months or more. Children are at greater risk for developing long term illness from Hepatitis B than adults.
How is hepatitis B spread?
This disease is spread when a person comes into contact with bodily fluids such as blood, semen or other fluids from someone who is infected. The can be via a mother to her new born baby, from sexual intercourse with an infected person, and using unsterilized equipment for tattoos, piercing or drug taking. It is not spread by kissing (unless both of you have cuts or sores in your mouth), touching, sneezing or sharing utensils.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis B?
Acute hepatitis B usually causes the following symptoms:
- Abdominal pain
- Joint pain
- Loss of appetite
- Dark coloring in the urine
- Jaundice (a yellowish discoloration of the skin)
There is no treatment for acute hepatitis B, but patients are advised to rest and stay hydrated.
Although chronic hepatitis B infection can remain asymptomatic for years, in some cases it can lead to liver cirrhosis or liver cancer.
Do I need a vaccine for hepatitis B?
The hepatitis B vaccine is one of the routine immunisations stipulated in MOH’s compulsory National Childhood Immunisation Schedule. It has also been included in the National Adult Immunisation Schedule.
Most Singaporeans are vaccinated as babies, with three doses given at birth, 1 month and 5 or 6 months. If you were not vaccinated as a baby or child, MOH recommends that you should still do so as an adult.
Adults who have not yet been vaccinated are recommended to get 3 doses of the vaccine – the second dose should be administered 1 month after the first and the third dose should be administered 6 months after the second. If you fall into one of the following high risk groups, you are highly encouraged to get the hepatitis B vaccine:
- People who have sex with multiple partners
- People who inject drugs
- Men who have sex with men
- Sex workers
- Travellers to high risk countries
- Employees handling body fluids such as blood
- Anyone receiving a blood transfusion, and their carers
- People with chronic liveror kidney disease
- People with close family members who have hepatitis B
- Families adopting children from high-risk countries
Should I get hepatitis B vaccine boosters?
Hepatitis B vaccine boosters are not recommended for those who have had severe allergies after getting the hepatitis B vaccine or those who are allergic to any component of the vaccine or booster.
If you are moderately or severely ill, you should wait till you recover before you get the vaccine. If you are suffering from a mild illness such as a cold, you can speak to your health provider about getting the vaccine.
How long before travelling should I get the hepatitis B vaccine?
You should try to complete all 3 doses of the hepatitis B vaccine at least three weeks before your trip to a high risk area. For an optimal level of protection, the first application should take place six months before starting a trip.