What is hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is a viral infection of the liver spread by direct contact with the blood or body fluids of an infected person.
It often does not cause any obvious symptoms in adults, and typically passes in a few months without treatment. In children, it often persists for years and may eventually cause serious liver damage.1
Hepatitis B is less common in the UK than other parts of the world, but certain groups are at an increased risk. This includes people originally from high-risk countries, people who inject drugs, and people who have unprotected sex with multiple sexual partners.2
A hepatitis B vaccine is available for people who are considered to be at high risk.
The following is a summary about the disease. For further details speak to your local pharmacist or GP.
Risk for travellers is low although certain behaviours or activities put individuals at higher risk, particularly when these occur in areas where hepatitis B is more common. These behaviours and activities include:
The virus is able to survive outside the body for at least a week which means objects and surfaces contaminated with dried blood also can pose a risk.3
Hepatitis B is found worldwide with highest rates reported in parts of:
The rates of infection in Western Europe and North America are low.1 In the UK, approximately 180,000 people are thought to be chronically infected with hepatitis B.3
A map showing the countries and areas where hepatitis B is a high risk can be found here.4
In majority of cases of hepatitis B symptoms do not occur. Symptoms more commonly occur in adults than children and may include:
Persistent hepatitis B infection develops in 80-90% of those who are infected in the first year of life and in only 5% of those infected in adult years. Persistent infection may lead to liver failure or liver cancer.1
Some people may develop a serious illness and need to be treated in hospital. More severe symptoms may include:
If chronic infection of hepatitis B is left untreated people can sometimes develop serious liver problems often requiring a liver transplant. This can include:
See the GP as soon as possible if exposure to hepatitis B virus is suspected.
Emergency hepatitis B treatment:
Treatment is most effective within 48 hours of possible exposure (but can be given up to a week after exposure to help stop infection). Treatment includes:
This does not require hospital treatment and the infection resolves within a few months. The GP may recommend:
Blood tests are recommended to ensure the infection has cleared and not developed into chronic hepatitis B.
This often requires antiviral medication to stop or reduce the activity of the virus from damaging the liver. Treatment is recommended if:
All travellers should avoid contact with blood and bodily fluids by:
Any traveller can be at risk of an accident or require emergency treatment. Travellers should be aware that using precautions will also help protect against other blood and body fluid-borne viruses, such as HIV and hepatitis C, for which there are currently no vaccines. A sterile medical equipment kit may be helpful when travelling to resource poor areas.1
Vaccination is recommended for all travellers considering visiting high risk areas. Country specific recommendation for hepatitis B vaccinations can be found here.5
Hepatitis B vaccination is routinely available as part of the NHS vaccination schedule to all babies at 8, 12 and 16 weeks of age.6
The vaccination is also available to people who are considered at risk of getting hepatitis B or developing serious complications from it. These groups include:
Several well-tolerated inactivated hepatitis B vaccines are available as well as combined hepatitis A/B products.1
There are many different immunisation schedules for hepatitis B vaccine which depend on the vaccine product used and how quickly protection is needed for pre or post exposure.7 Speak to a travel clinic advisor or pharmacist for more information.
A blood test to check immunity (hepatitis B surface antibody levels) is only recommended for people with kidney failure or those at risk of occupational exposure particularly healthcare and laboratory workers.2
This information is taken from trusted third party websites, NaTHNaC (Travel Health Pro) and EMIS (Patient info) and use of all information has been licenced under the Open Government Licence http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/3/.
Although the materials are being used/replicated under the provisions of the Open Government Licence this in no way represents endorsement of Traveljab.co.uk by NaTHNaC, EMIS, Public Health England, the NHS or the Department of Health and Social Care.