What is hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is a viral liver infection that is spread through blood and body fluids. While often symptomless, 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, 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 NHS’ routine immunisations. Most people are vaccinated as babies, with a dose given at 8, 12 and 16 weeks of age. If you were not vaccinated as a baby or child, you should still do so as an adult, particularly if you fall into one of the following high risk groups:
- 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 immunisation boosters are not recommended for people who have already received a series of vaccines and do not have a weakened immune system. People who are infected with HIV or on hemodialysis should consult their doctor to define their vaccination needs.
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.