Hepatitis B is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV), and is transmitted from person to person through contact with bodily fluids, such as:
What is it and where am I at risk?
Blood or blood products
Wound exudates - the drainage from skin lesions including scratched insect bites or scabies
Contact with contaminated needles - from IV drug use, acupuncture, or tattooing
Through work in healthcare situations where there is exposure to blood and body fluids
Unprotected sexual activity
Hepatitis B exists world-wide, however there are areas where it is a greater risk. The risk is considered greater in areas of Asia, Africa, South America, and the Caribbean. Those individuals with extended stays in those areas may be at increased risk of exposure.
What are the symptoms of Hepatitis B?
The average incubation period for Hepatitis B Virus is 90 days, and 30-50% of exposed individuals will develop clinical illness.
Early symptoms may include: not feeling well, fatigue, and lack of appetite for 1-2 weeks.
Other clinical symptoms include:
Nausea and Vomiting
Jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes)
Skin rashes, joint pain and arthritis
Hepatitis B can turn into a chronic illness, and may result in chronic liver disease; including liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. (Because of this, Hepatitis B vaccine is considered one vaccine that can prevent cancer – liver cancer)
What Treatments are Available?
While there are some treatments available for acute Hepatitis B – the best course of action is preventative care and completion of the Hepatitis B vaccination series.
This series consists of 3 doses, and should be considered by:
All unvaccinated people traveling to areas with intermediate or high prevalence of chronic hepatitis B
Any individuals who work in health care settings and who may be exposed to blood and/or body fluids
Any individuals who engage in high risk behaviors
This vaccine series should ideally be begun 6 months before travel so that the series can be completed before departure. However, if there is not time to complete the standard series, you may have options for the initial doses or an accelerated schedule to have some immunity.