Hepatitis B is a type of hepatitis, a viral infection which can cause damage to the liver. Unlike hepatitis A, the hepatitis B virus is not usually transmitted via contaminated water but rather via bodily fluids such as blood or via contaminated needles.
About the vaccine
- When to get vaccinated: In order to complete the full course in time, you need to get the first dose at least one month before travel.
- Course: The course consists of three doses. The second injection is given four weeks after the first and the third injection
- Accelerated course: If travelling at short notice, you may be able to get an accelerated course. You will receive the second injection after seven days, followed by the third injection at least 14 days after the second.
- Boosters: Once you have completed the course, you usually won’t need another booster for five years. Boosters are sometimes recommended after exposure to the disease.
- How it is given: Injection in the upper arm.
- Side effects: Possible side effects include soreness at the injection site and tiredness.
- Children: The hepatitis B vaccine can be given from birth.
- Additional precautions: If travelling to a country where medical resources are limited, carry sterile needles with you. Use a condom every time you have sex to avoid catching hepatitis B during sex.
- Risk if you contract hepatitis B: I Hepatitis B can cause a range of flu like symptoms as well as jaundice. It can become chronic and lead to liver damage and failure.
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What is hepatitis b?
Hepatitis B is a type of viral hepatitis which can cause damage to the liver. Unlike hepatitis A, the hepatitis B virus is not usually transmitted via contaminated water but rather via bodily fluids, such as blood or semen. It is often passed during sex or when using contaminated needles and medical equipment. Hepatitis B has a long incubation period of 40 – 160 days and is often symptomless.
Possible hepatitis B symptoms are feeling or being sick, rash, joint pain, loss of appetite, tiredness and headache as well as flu-like symptoms. Some patients also develop a yellowing of skin and eyes, which is called jaundice. The infection can persist for a long time and become chronic hepatitis B, resulting in liver cancer, damage and failure.
If you are travelling to an area where hepatitis B is a common illness, you may require a hepatitis B vaccine. The same goes for healthcare workers and medical professionals, who are more likely to be exposed to the infection.
According to the World Health Organisation, approximately 887,000 people died as a result of hepatitis B and its complications in 2015.
Immunisation requires three to four individual doses, administered by injection. The nurse will assess which course is suitable for you. Most travellers would be recommended three doses, one month apart.
Healthcare workers are advised to carry out a blood test one to four months after the course is completed, to check whether vaccination was successful. Travellers are at a lower risk of contracting hepatitis B and do not require a blood test.
Those thought to have a continued high risk of infection should consider having a booster after 5 years. Boosters may be needed after exposure to the infection. If you think you have been exposed to hepatitis B please seek medical attention urgently.
The hepatitis B vaccine can cause mild side effects, such as redness and soreness at the injection site. Occasionally, patients feel tired within the first few days after the injection.
Who needs the hepatitis b vaccine?
Hepatitis B occurs in all parts of the world. In some areas, however, there is an increased risk due to the infection being widespread. Hepatitis B risk areas include parts of eastern Europe, Africa, South and Central America, South East Asia, Russia, India, China as well as some South Pacific Islands. If you are planning to travel to any of these destinations, your Superdrug travel nurse can advise on whether you require a hepatitis B vaccine. Superdrug travel clinics also provide a combined hepatitis A and B vaccine for travellers who require immunisations against both infections.
Preventing hepatitis b
Travellers are particularly at risk if they have an accident and require medical treatment in a country with a high incidence of hepatitis B and a health care system with limited resources. In these circumstances, injections might be re-used or blood transfusions may not be screened for hep B. The hepatitis B vaccine helps prevent infection and protects you in case of such an emergency.
Hepatitis B is also transmitted during sexual intercourse. If you have sexual intercourse during your travels, always ensure you use a condom to prevent transmission. Avoid procedures which involve piercing your skin, such as tattooing and acupuncture.
Side effects of the hepatitis B vaccine
Common and very common side effects include:
- temporary soreness
- redness or hardening of the skin around the injection site
- gastro-intestinal disturbances
- loss of appetite
- muscle pain