Hepatitis B is viral infection of the liver that is spread through bodily fluids (e.g., semen and vaginal fluids) and blood. Therefore, the disease is likely to be a spread in a number of ways, which include:
- from mother to child (particularly in countries where the infection is prevalent)
- by injecting drugs and sharing needles
- having sex with an infected person without a condom
- receiving a tattoo or body piercing using unsterilised equipment
- sharing razors or toothbrushes with infected blood
Obvious symptoms do not usually occur in adults and the infection can typically pass within 1 to 3 months (acute hepatitis B) without needing treatment, providing an immunity to the infection for life. However, with babies and children the infection often persists for years (chronic hepatitis B) and can result in serious liver damage.
Symptoms of the hepatitis B infection include:
- feeling nauseous
- tummy pain
- flu-like symptoms – tiredness, fever and aches and pains
- loss of appetite
- yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
If these symptoms do develop, they will usually occur from 2 to 3 months after initial exposure to the hepatitis B infection.
Hepatitis B infection is typically diagnosed using blood tests. The ensuing treatment depends on how long you have been infected. For example:
- If exposure has occurred within the past few days, emergency treatment can prevent you from becoming infected.
- If you have had the infection for a few weeks or months (acute), treatment will most likely be limited to relieving symptoms whilst the body naturally fights off the infection.
- If you have had hepatitis B for longer than 6 months (chronic) anti viral medicine may be prescribed and administered in order to reduce the risk of liver damage and keep the virus under control. This treatment may be lifelong and include regular consultation and monitoring of liver function.
Prevention and Vaccination
The hepatitis B vaccine is inactivated and cannot cause the hepatitis B disease. It is usually given in 3 injections, incurring minimal pain, at various intervals, dependent on your departure date for travelling. This course of treatment usually lasts for 5 years, but this is subject to variation.
During your consultation our travel health practitioners will undertake a travel risk assessment based on your itinerary and travel plans. Our expert practitioners are also well placed to discuss and assess the risks versus the benefits of vaccination of those who are pregnant or who suffer with certain allergies. Our aim is for you to leave your consultation feeling confident and fully informed.