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What is hepatitis B?

What is hepatitis B?
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Can you avoid hepatitis B while travelling?

Hepatitis B is an infectious disease that causes liver damage and long-term illness, but the good news is that it is vaccine preventable, and it is possible to avoid it by taking a few precautions while you travel.

What causes hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is caused by a virus. It is passed on via blood and bodily fluids

What are the consequences of a hepatitis B infection?

Many cases of hepatitis B clear up on their own within three months. This is known as acute hepatitis B. The patient may experience:

  • fever
  • abdominal pain
  • vomiting, nausea and loss of appetite
  • diarrhea
  • jaundice
  • fatigue

Not all patients with hepatitis B realize they have it, but some people infected with the virus suffer from chronic hepatitis B, which lasts six months or longer and can lead to liver disease that progresses to cirrhosis or liver cancer. It is particularly persistent in children. Sometimes hep B can cause liver failure, which is a medical emergency. These are the symptoms of liver failure.

  • bleeding gums
  • nose bleeds
  • easy bruising
  • sudden vomiting
  • drowsiness
  • irritability
  • memory problems

If you, or someone you are caring for has these symptoms, get medical help right away.

One of the reasons that hep B is so dangerous is that an infected person may not feel unwell; but they may pass the virus on to their partner without realizing and put them at risk from the more serious consequences of a chronic hepatitis B infection.

If you think you have hep B, or you suspect you may have been exposed to it, get medical advice so that you can be tested and checked over.

How do people catch hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a risk during any activity that exposes you to the blood or bodily fluids of others, including:

  • unprotected sex
  • medical, dental or cosmetic procedures where hygiene techniques are faulty
  • tattooing
  • acupuncture
  • sharing recreational drug equipment, particularly needles
  • sharing toothbrushes or razors

You may also be exposed to hep B if you have a blood transfusion in a country where blood is not tested for this virus. And people at risk from needle-stick or human bite injuries may also be exposed to hep B. Hepatitis B can be passed from a mother to a newborn baby during birth.

Should I get vaccinated against hepatitis B?

If you expect to be exposed to blood or body fluids, then your travel health adviser will probably recommend you get a hep B shot. During your appointment they will ask questions about your planned activities. Try to be honest even if you feel embarrassed or shy – your answers are completely confidential. We won’t judge: we’d just like you to be safe.

The hep B vaccine is usually recommended for children and long-stay travellers. If you take the full course of hep B vaccine, which consists of several doses over six months, it will give you long-term protection. See our hepatitis B vaccine page for more information.

Where is hep B a particular risk?

There is a particular risk of contracting hepatitis B in sub-Saharan Africa, east and southeast Asia, Pacific Islands, South America, south eastern Europe, the Middle East, and India.

How can I learn more about hepatitis B?

The World Health Organization has a factsheet about hep B.

I’m looking for a travel clinic in Calgary

Look no further than Canadian Travel Clinics if you need travel vaccinations in Calgary. We can offer evening and early morning appointments for your convenience. Book online now.